It didn't hit Josh Harding until Thursday morning midway through the Wild's morning practice.

Harding was talking with goalie coach Bob Mason and Niklas Backstrom when it dawned on them how long the three have been together. Mason is entering his 12th season with the Wild Harding his ninth and Backstrom his eighth.

Along the way the two goalies have gotten to know a thing or two about each other -- and most importantly they've built a competition for minutes between the pipes.

"It's a healthy competition" Harding said. "I'll be the first one to cheer for (Backstrom) and he'll be the first one to cheer for me."

For the first time since the 2011-12 season the two appear headed for a healthy competition in the literal sense.

Harding missed 2-1/2 months of the 2013 season while trying to get his medication in check for his multiple sclerosis. A few days after he returned Backstrom was hurt during warmups for the Wild's first playoff game in five years. The injury forced him to sit out the playoff series against the Blackhawks and then undergo sports hernia surgery in the offseason.

Coach Mike Yeo said he can't remember what was going through his head after Backstrom who had played in 27 of the team's final 28 regular-season games was hurt loosening up on the ice in Chicago.

"We didn't have much time to feel sorry for ourselves. We just had to move on" Yeo said.

Harding filled in as well as the team could have hoped. Even after the playoff series loss though the Wild's goaltending situation wasn't clear.

Backstrom was a restricted free agent and there were few No. 1 goalies available on the market.

Backstrom 35 is a man of routine. The rehab from his surgery was a blessing in disguise he said; it kept him from obsessing about his status in free agency.

"It's not like you're thinking about it every day but for sure I'm a guy who likes to plan everything and know everything" Backstrom said. "And when you don't really know where you're going to play the next year or what's going to happen for sure that's on your mind. But on the other hand I was just off surgery and I was recovering from that so I could focus on that."

This season Harding and Backstrom are in line to split starts. How many starts each might make Harding said likely will be based on performance.

After spending part of his summer raising awareness and funds for MS through his charity Harding's Hope the 29-year-old Harding is focused on his game. He said he wants to focus on hockey and not to talk about his experience with MS which he was diagnosed with a year ago.