Harding returns to Wild practice, says illness was out of his control

Wild goalie Josh Harding leads the NHL with a 1.65 goals-against average and is second with a .933 save percentage, but he's been on injured reserve since Jan. 6 because of an illness.

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Josh Harding’s return to the Minnesota Wild is still uncertain, but he was back at practice Tuesday for the first time since going on injured reserve Jan. 6 because of an illness.

Harding, who leads the NHL with a 1.65 goals-against average and is second with a .933 save percentage, has been working out on his own and skating while the team was on the road. He was placed on injured reserve in December as he adjusted to a change in medication for multiple sclerosis.

He returned and played two games, but has missed the past six games with an illness.

"Wasn’t feeling good," Harding said after practicing Tuesday. "Obviously if I felt even a little bit like I could play, I would have. But there’s some things that are out of my control and I thought that we did everything in our control to get back to where we are right now."

Asked if his illness was related to his multiple sclerosis, Harding chose not to get into specifics.

Hockey Day Minnesota 2014

"We’re not going to get too much into that," Harding said. "Like I said, it was out of my control."

He started to feel better and had been working with the team’s strength and conditioning coach, Kirk Olson. Harding wasn’t sure how long it would take him to return to game action and joked that he needs to work hard to "not be the weak link" when he returns.

The Wild have won five of their past six games. Young goaltender Darcy Kuemper has won his past two starts, allowing only one goal in the process. Coach Mike Yeo said Kuemper would start Tuesday night at home against Ottawa after earning his first NHL shutout on Sunday at Nashville.

Niklas Backstrom has won three of his past four starts, allowing eight goals over the span.

"The plan is to focus on tonight’s game," Yeo said of Harding practicing. "I haven’t had an opportunity to talk to him to see how he felt. But obviously a good first step to get him on the ice."

Harding is tied for eighth in the NHL with 18 wins, despite missing most of the past month. Backstrom entered the season as Minnesota’s top netminder, but an early injury opened the door for Harding, who dazzled in playing 27 of a possible 34 games at one point.

"It was probably one of the worst timings," Harding said. "When you’re playing good, when you’ve got that rhythm, when you’re getting in there and finally getting the chance, you want to run with it. But, again, there are some things out of my control right now and I’m just happy how we all dealt with it and kind of figured out what we could control and did it."

Harding has appreciated the team’s support while he deals with his illness.

"Yeah, it’s been awesome like it has always been," Harding said. "There’s never really an issue and when I come to the rink, it’s my getaway. So, we don’t talk about it. We just deal with playing hockey here."

Parise returns to ice: Meanwhile, forward Zach Parise skated on his own for the first time since going on injured reserve on Dec. 28 with a foot injury. Parise, who’s fourth on the team with 27 points, has missed 10 games.

When meeting with reporters following practice, Yeo said he hadn’t yet had a chance to speak with Parise to find out how he was feeling. Parise is second on the team with 15 goals and has 12 assists.

"Obviously can’t predict what that means (or) when we’ll see him in the lineup, but an important first step for sure," Yeo said.

Like Harding, there is no timetable for Parise’s return.

"He’s missed a good amount of time here," Yeo said. "He’s been training hard. He’s been working hard. We’ve been working really hard, I think that’s why he’s excited to get back on the ice. There’s still a difference between working out in the gym and getting on the ice and getting into the contact. So, like I said, it’s a first step and we’ll see where we take that."

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