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Associated Press, Published May 01 2013

Blackhawks flexed their depth in Game 1 victory against Wild

CHICAGO – The Minnesota Wild got a terrific effort from Josh Harding in a tough spot. Ryan Suter helped Minnesota keep Chicago’s high-powered attack in check, and the Wild still lost Game 1 to the Blackhawks.

The problem for Minnesota is the same one Chicago presented all season long to the rest of the NHL, and it could become even more important as the series moves forward.

The Blackhawks are so deep that it’s tough to keep track of everyone.

Take the overtime goal in Tuesday night’s playoff opener, which went to Chicago’s third line. Or the ice time on the score sheet, which showed a pretty even distribution for the Blackhawks compared to an astounding 41 minutes for Suter and 34 for fellow Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin.

“Every shift’s critical, and it’s important that you hold up your end of the bargain,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Wednesday. “Your depth’s going to get challenged, and I think we found out all year it was one of the strengths of our team. This year, in the playoffs, I don’t think that’s changed at all, maybe it would even be that much more important.”

Minnesota’s depth was challenged when goalie Niklas Backstrom was scratched with a leg injury after he hurt himself while reaching for a puck as he warmed up for Game 1. Harding, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis diagnosis last summer and played in just five games this season, responded with 35 saves.

“To not expect to play and halfway through warm-ups you find you have to play, to flip that switch, that’s a tough thing,” Suter said. “I thought he did great. That’s a lot of pressure on a guy to come in and perform, and he did. Hopefully, he continues to have great success like he had.”

Backstrom and right wing Jason Pominville are day to day, according to coach Mike Yeo. Pominville missed the last two games of the regular season after he was elbowed in the chin by Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings.

That means Harding could be in the net again for Game 2 on Friday night at the United Center, a week after he replaced an ineffective Backstrom and allowed three goals himself in a 6-1 loss to Edmonton that nearly cost the Wild a playoff spot.

“I was anxious for a lot of reasons to see him have a chance to bounce back,” Yeo said. “He was thrown into a tough situation in that Edmonton game. And if you know Josh, he’s a competitor and I’m sure he was looking for an opportunity to get back in there, too. Obviously he wasn’t expecting it to happen like that.”