Josh Harding puts himself on potential starter radar

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After losing his 2010-11 season to an unfortunate injury, Josh Harding is enjoying one of the best spans of his career. The quality backup is on a four-game winning streak in which he’s allowed just three goals, including two wins against the Detroit Red Wings and one against the Vancouver Canucks.

In other words, Harding is nailing what is essentially a high-profile audition for the summer of 2012, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He’s been a well-respected backup for quite some time, but his fantastic start to the 2011-12 season should add him to a crowded field of backups who could be starters in the future.

Here’s a quick list of young goalies who might not be backups for very long:

Not in a contract year:

Sergei Bobrovsky
Michal Neuvirth
Jonathan Bernier

Contract year (restricted):

Tuukka Rask
Anders Lindback
Devan Dubnyk
Cory Schneider
Ondrej Pavelec (note: Pavelec is a starter, but if he has a bad season, many teams could look at him as a backup or a 1a/1b type)

Contract year (unrestricted):

Dan Ellis
Harding

Assessing Harding’s potential competition

It would be shocking to see Bobrovsky or Neuvirth get traded and The Kings would be wrong to trust Bernier at this point. Rask and Schneider are likely the most intriguing RFAs as far as offer sheets/etc. are concerned while Pavelec is an intriguing wild card.

A lot of teams won’t want to deal with the headaches of offer sheets, sign-and-trades and other RFA-related hassles, though, so Harding could very well assert himself as a prime candidate for a job opening – whether it be in Columbus, Tampa Bay or any number of other places. As far as UFAs go, it’s basically Harding vs. career backups such as Chris Mason.

Harding still has a long way to go to earn a shot at a top job

Naturally, there’s still a long way to go and five impressive games played won’t be enough to sway most (if not all) GMs. At the same time, it’s heartening that Harding is making such a showcase for his value after the devastating injury that derailed his 2010-11 season.

Video: Trisha Yearwood sings national anthem for Preds-Ducks

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Keith Urban sang the national anthem for Game 3. Kelly Clarkson did the honors for the Nashville Predators before Game 4. Next up: Trisha Yearwood for Game 6.

The Predators hope to close out the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, and they got off to a nice start with Austin Watson scoring a quick 1-0 goal. Not long after, the Predators added another to build to a 2-0 lead.

Garth Brooks spoiled Yearwood’s appearance a bit before the contest.

Brooks also revealed Yearwood’s early fan creds:

Nick Ritchie ejected after boarding, bloodying Viktor Arvidsson (Video)

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Anaheim Ducks forward Nick Ritchie scored a goal in Game 4, but he won’t be able to provide such a scoring boost for his team in Game 6.

That’s because he was ejected during the first period after hitting rising Nashville Predators star Viktor Arvidsson from behind, bloodying the slick Swede.

Ritchie was whistled for a game misconduct and major. Remarkably, the Ducks killed the entire five-minute power-play opportunity, with Ryan Kesler‘s shorthanded chance being one of the better opportunities for either team.

It’s still a big blunder, but if the Ducks can get back in it, remember that big kill.

Video of the hit is coming soon. For now, check out the GIF:

Oddly, Arvidsson left the ice with a wound that more or less spelled out “R,” presumably for Ritchie, maybe celebrating the return of “Twin Peaks.”

(Such an obvious move might not be surreal enough for David Lynch, though. Alex Prewitt’s Zorro reference might be more, um, on the mark.)

Video: Predators storm off to 2-0 lead, beguile Bernier early on

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It was already loud at Bridgestone Arena, but the Nashville Predators are making it a madhouse with a strong start against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6.

First, it was Austin Watson, who sent a puck off a Ducks skate to score a 1-0 goal on Nashville’s first shot on Jonathan Bernier, who is starting instead of John Gibson. That came about 90 seconds into the game, really revving up the crowd.

Colton Sissons scored his first goal of the Western Conference Final – on his first shot on goal of the series – to make it 2-0. At that point, Bernier had allowed two goals on three shots on goal. Bernier’s made a few stops since then, but it’s a shaky start for a Ducks team facing elimination.

There’s some solace in that Anaheim’s often at its best in dire situations, though you have to wonder how many times they can bounce back from this?

No Mike Fisher or Craig Smith for Predators in Game 6

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The Anaheim Ducks won’t have John Gibson back, but the Nashville Predators are dealing with some injury-related letdowns, too.

Craig Smith skated before Game 6, but he opted not to play on Monday. Mike Fisher is also unable to go for the Predators as they aim to eliminate Anaheim.

The Ducks also won’t have Rickard Rakell back in the mix, so this physical Western Conference Final continues to feel like a battle of attrition.

Click here for the official roster report.

Game 5 is airing on NBCSN right now. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE.