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Updated: December 8th, 2013 9:33pm
Myers: Harding, Wild freeze out San Jose despite lopsided shot count

Myers: Harding, Wild freeze out San Jose despite lopsided shot count

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by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- These are unpleasant times for outsiders to visit Minnesota's capital city, and that's only partially due to the weather.

When one grew up on the edge of the Arctic Circle -- or at least Roseau County felt that way most winters -- and played youth hockey in unheated arenas where it was commonly double-digits below zero inside for years, it's hard to complain about the amenities of modern NHL arenas. But it was cold inside Xcel Energy Center on Sunday.

Not "take a slap shot and the puck breaks in half" cold, but chilly enough where many in the audience of 18,000-plus in attendance stayed bundled up throughout.

And for the afternoon's visitors, just in town from California for 48 hours, Minnesota in December proved to be a cold, noisy, frustrating place.

The San Jose Sharks threw everything they had at the Wild net, outshooting their hosts by a ridiculous margin. And for all that sound and fury, they got nothing except a cold bus ride to the airport.

The Wild, now an NHL-best 13-3-2 when playing in that chilly rink hard by the mostly frozen Mississippi River, managed a season-low 13 shots on goal, but three of them went in the San Jose net. The Sharks fired 38 shots at Josh Harding -- 21 of them in the second period alone. They got one goal, and needed to pull their goalie to get it.

Oddly, for a guy who started the season as a backup, battling for playing time while he dealt with an incurable disease, a 37-save win for Harding, featuring a host of highlight reel quality saves, is quickly becoming the norm.

"With the year he's having, he's not sneaking up on anybody anymore," said Sharks coach Todd McClellan. "He had a really good night. I thought there were times where we could've had better net presence. We thought we had to maybe score on the third rebound, never mind the second one. He was that mobile and agile. We got to a few of them with our goaltender pulled but it was not enough."

Harding, and the Wild, are quickly gaining a reputation as a group nobody wants to see in the home sweaters. Sharks star forward Joe Pavelski knows all about the snow and ice, having grown up in Wisconsin, and he said they knew what they were getting into facing Harding at home.

"He's played awesome for them," Pavelski said. "It's been a year where he's been good at home, so we knew it was on us to go get him. He did it again. It's frustrating as a team when you think you can beat him."

In their last two home games, the Wild have found ways to beat two of the three best teams in the Western Conference - the Blackhawks and Sharks. In their last two road games they're 0-1-1, having rallied late to get a point in a shootout loss versus the Avalanche, and playing what was likely their worst game of the season Friday in Columbus, where they fell to the lightly-regarded Blue Jackets 4-0. That bad taste made Sunday's win even more critical, for the team's psyche if nothing else.

"That performance in Columbus, we were flat. We were physically tired, mentally tired. We just didn't have it," said Parise, who scored an even strength goal and added an empty-net goal to tie Jason Pominville for the team lead with 14.

"To come back and win a game then you go out and play some really important games against some teams we're chasing in the standings, you want to take care of what you've got to do at home. It was a hard game, and that's a tough team to play against. We were able to hang on and win, so that's important for us."

The domination at home makes the next few weeks all the more important, as the Wild will play seven of their next eight games elsewhere. They are currently 5-6-3 away from home.

"We haven't been that good on the road. We've been pretty solid at home. We have to find a way to get better on the road. Good teams win on the road, and we've got to get that going," said star defenseman Ryan Suter.

"I don't know what it is. Obviously, teams are good at home. It's just we've got a little extra we've got to bring, just in preparation, just making sure we're getting pucks in and not giving up a lot. I think when you're on the road and a team's just putting pucks in, they're just building momentum. We have to find ways to break that, and we haven't been able to do that yet this year."

But for now, the Wild get two more nights in frigid Minnesota before embarking on an Anaheim-San Jose-Colorado swing. To the west they'll surely find sunshine and rinks that are warmer, if less friendly. Finding ways to win there will likely go a long way to determining whether teams will be visiting Minnesota for the playoffs in the late spring and early summer, when it's much more pleasant here - at least outside the arena.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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