ST. PAUL, Minn. — Josh Harding never wanted to enter the summer this way after being the Minnesota Wild's goaltender in the 4-1 playoff series loss to Chicago Blackhawks, but he's been preparing for this summer for the past several months.
Harding, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis late last summer, worked himself to get into shape to start this season on Minnesota's roster. A midseason change in medication forced him to the injured reserve list for nearly three months. All the time missed, as he and the doctors worked on finding the right treatment so Harding can keep playing, was all so he didn't have to worry about his illness any longer.
As the Wild's most experienced goaltender signed to a contract for next season, Harding is focused this summer on getting ready for next season, not fighting MS.
"That's why I missed time this year and the playoffs," Harding said after the season ended. "It obviously was a big curveball thrown at myself. It took a lot of learning to cope with it and get the medications right. It did take a while, definitely happy with where I am right now and we'll be even more dialed in next year."
Harding, who turns 29 years old in June, has been Niklas Backstrom's backup for the bulk of the past five seasons. Backstrom is an unrestricted free agent, leaving Harding as the team's top netminder, for now, heading into next season. With his illness in check, he believes he'll be ready to log big minutes, if needed, as he showed in the playoffs when he had a 2.94 goals-against average and .911 save percentage starting all five games against Chicago.
"I played five games in nine days and without that little injury, I was feeling great," Harding said of a leg injury he suffered in Game 4. "No setbacks at all. This summer will be huge for me with getting some weight back on that I lost and getting a little stronger, and just getting everything kind of dialed in. It was kind of a crazy year for this to happen with the shortened season, but definitely it's going to be a big summer for me. I'm definitely up for the challenge."
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