ST. PAUL, Minn. — Goaltender Niklas Backstrom was practicing for the Minnesota Wild in the playoffs, trying to return from an injury and aid the team he helped push to the playoffs for the first time in five years.
After Thursday’s season-ending loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, what Backstrom was trying to fight back from was discovered.
Backstrom, who tied for the league-lead with 24 wins in the regular season, missed the entire playoffs after appearing to strain something in pregame warmups for Game 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks. Backstrom has been dealing with a sports hernia and is scheduled to have surgery to repair his core on Wednesday.
“It’s tough when you find out about it, but you try to find a different place to get back there as soon as possible,” Backstrom said. “And I think mentally it’s good for you to work on your rehab so you don’t think too much about missing the game and you can’t be with the guys out on the ice. For me it was more to focus on the rehab and try to get back on the ice and make sure that if things work out I could be playing with a good level and help the team.”
Backstrom did return to practice with the team, but didn’t feel good enough to return to the lineup as backup Josh Harding started each game of the playoffs in Minnesota’s 4-1 series loss against Chicago. Backstrom was 24-15-3 during the regular season with a 2.48 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. He started 26 of the team’s final 27 games as the Wild looked to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
General manager Chuck Fletcher, coach Mike Yeo and Backstrom said the injury wasn’t a result of heavy use during the lockout-shortened, compacted schedule. Backstrom played the seventh-most minutes of any goaltender in the league.
“Obviously that’s where we were at and that’s what we were forced to do,” Yeo said. “Certainly it would be easy to sit here and say that maybe things would have went differently if we went in a different direction. If you’re going into a real important game, it’s real important that you’re players look back at the most important position and say, ‘OK, we’re good tonight.’ And Backy has that respect from his teammates. And we’re playing crucial games its important, his veteran presence. I would sit here and I would do that again, the way we did it.”
Backstrom, 35, is an unrestricted free agent and the starting goaltending might be the biggest question heading into the offseason for Minnesota. Both parties seem open to a return and Yeo doesn’t doubt Backstrom will be ready for a full load by the time next season rolls around.
“This is a guy that takes extremely good care of himself,” Yeo said. “He’s a great professional and I know that he’s going to have a real good summer. Yeah, I am confident.”
Backstrom said it will be the first time he will go through a sports hernia surgery. He felt the large workload helped him during the season and that he will return next season and be ready to play 60-plus games.
“I think I proved that this year with the schedule,” Backstrom said. “I felt good the whole year. It’s fun to play. I think for me it’s always been easier the more I play and get out there. When it’s fun, it’s easy.”