Wild's Fernandez getting closer to seeing the ice

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.

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.