Wild's Fernandez getting closer to seeing the ice

Updated: March 5, 2007, 10:33 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota goaltender Manny Fernandez is set to suit up on Tuesday and could be back in the lineup later this week, Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said.

Manny Fernandez

Fernandez has been on the shelf with a sprained knee since Jan. 30. He returned to practice Friday for the first time in 31 days and practiced again Monday.

Lemaire said Niklas Backstrom will start Tuesday night when the Wild host San Jose, but Fernandez will supplant Josh Harding as the backup and will be on the ice again soon.

"I think he's ready," Lemaire said. "He feels better. We'll go with Backstrom because Manny's not quite ready to be in. He needs a little more work in practices. But it will be a matter of time before he gets back in the net."

Fernandez declined comment after practice on Monday.

His first opportunity could come Friday at Buffalo, the second night of a back-to-back.

The Wild, who are currently just behind the Sharks in seventh place in the Western Conference playoff race, can afford to be cautious with Fernandez thanks to strong play from Backstrom and Harding, who posted his second career shutout last week.

Backstrom is 9-2-2 with a .923 save percentage since Fernandez went down.

"Right now there's no doubt we have a lot of confidence in Backstrom," Lemaire said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press