Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The day that explains Minnesota sports

The digital Minnesota dictionary will need an update after Sunday. Under "Minnesota Sports," there's a new entry that should be right at the top: The performances from the Minnesota Wild and Minnesota Twins on April 24, 2016.

Seriously. If you ever want to explain what it's like to be a Minnesota sports fan or how Minnesota sports go to succeed in breaking your heart, just rewind Sunday's games. The main tagline under this dictionary entry will also be: "We can't have nice things." That's all you need to know.

A quick summary: The Wild lost 5-4 to Dallas in Game 6 in St. Paul. The loss eliminated them from the playoffs as Dallas won the series 4-2. The Twins lost a 16-inning game, 6-5 to the Nationals, that took nearly six hours to play. Those two sentences don't sound so bad, right? Well, you have to see what happened to know how bad it was. 

I needed the watch the Twins for work, so I spent the afternoon at home watching all 16 innings on TV. I thought I'd be able to watch the Wild uninterrupted in the third period, but that wasn't the case either. I had Twitter and channel flipping during commercials to keep me updated on what was going on with the Wild.

Sleepwalking to start
I won't spend much time on the first two periods because, well, neither did the Wild. They came out flat, as they have many times this season, to start the game and it was 4-0 Dallas after two periods. Yuck. I heard that plenty of fans left the building, and I don't blame them. Although I probably would have stayed, it being a playoff game and all.

I'm sorry Wild, but if you can't get amped up for a home playoff Game 6 in front of a rocking building of fans, what exactly can you get excited for?

The third was where it got interesting, in true Wild fashion. For some frustrating, head-banging reason, this team just loves to lollygag around until their backs are firmly pressed against a wall. It was no different Sunday.

Then the floodgates opened 
A few minutes into the third, Jared Spurgeon scored to get the Wild on the board and make sure the Xcel Energy Center heard the "new" goal song: "Let's Go Crazy," in honor of Prince. OK, so it's 4-1. Still an uphill battle. Then 16 seconds later it was 4-2. What just happened? A few minutes later it was Spurgeon again with his second power-play goal to make it 4-3. The place went crazy (Hey! Just like the song.). I heard from a few people that the X was as loud as it had ever been that afternoon.

You just can't count this team out. Ever. I don't care if they're down 3-0 in a series and down 7-0 in the third period of an elimination game.

What turned out to be the winning goal for Dallas, also in true Minnesota fashion, was a fluke own-goal off Devan Dubnyk. These have happened to him time and time again this season, this series included. A shot came toward the net, but Duby didn't see it, that much was obvious. He said later that he thought the puck was past him into the corner and that he heard yelling. He moved his feet around in the crease, backed into the goal and unintentionally took the puck with him.

5-3 Dallas lead.

Zucker's chance
Just before that, Jason Zucker had a decent scoring chance to tie the game. I say decent because I think too much was made of this play. He was coming into the net with a ton of speed, then the Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen made the questioning move of throwing the puck across the crease. Zucker tried to right his stick with the puck on the side of the net as he skated to and through the net.

He had an empty net, sure, but it wasn't like he had complete control of his speed and the puck and missed an obvious chance. It was magnified by the fact that the Stars went down and scored right after.

The final heartbreak
Jason Pominville made it 5-4 with less than five minutes remaining. They weren't done yet, right? The Wild continued the final push into the final minutes of the game, as expected. There was a scramble in the crease where the puck may or may not have crossed the goal line. It's a huge debate. It was called no goal on the ice, they reviewed it and the call held up.

The puck was about a millimeter away from being fully across the line, which it needs to be to count. I was also interested in the fact that it looked like a Stars player might have covered the puck with his hand while in the crease, which would have been a penalty shot, but the referee didn't call it that way. That's not reviewable, by the way. Something I also don't agree with.

And so, Minnesota Wild fans were left with heartbreak, as usual. I'm not in the camp blaming the officiating for the loss. Or blaming Zucker for his missed chance. Or blaming bad luck.

It's very true that the Wild brought this on themselves when they played like garbage for two periods before turning on the jets. But hey, that's Minnesota sports.

This story was originally posted at

Friday, April 22, 2016

This could be it

Tonight is Game 5 in Dallas with the Wild down three games to one. It’s familiar territory, yet it’s still totally different. This could very well be the final game of the season for the Wild. No matter how we’ve felt about this team, it’s always a bummer when the season is officially over. At least for me.

The last time I wrote, I went in an unusual direction (for me) and took a look at the positives. You know, what it would take for the Wild to beat Dallas this series. Then Game 1 happened, and the first few minutes of Game 3, and I once again realized why I tend to drift toward negativity/reality more often. It’s better to have low expectations so you can be pleasantly surprised when good things happen, right?

So, the Wild are up against the wall again. Aren’t they always? They were down 3-1 a couple times in 2003 – the magical playoff run that we all love to drool over. But this isn’t 2003. The Wild are the 8 seed playing against a top team with lots of depth. The Wild have consistently shuffled their lineup and scratched different players throughout the series. That’s not the mark of a team that’s destined to have much success, in my opinion.

That said, I don’t think anyone would be wise to bet against this team. Just when you think they’re down and out, they show up and play like all stars. So who knows?

Game 5 will be a tough test in Dallas; I don’t think there’s any debate there. The Stars will be at home wanting to take care of business so they can rest up for the next series. They don’t want to drop a game to the Wild, because then the series and momentum shifts back to Minnesota. It’s fascinating to me how a 3-1 series (with the home-ice team being up) can turn on a dime if the road team steals Game 5.

Anyway, the Wild could completely fold the tents tonight. Or, they could show up and play well. It might not be well enough to counter the Stars or possibly another skate goal, however. With a loss, the Wild would lose the series 4-1 and be free to enjoy their golf course of choice for the summer.

If that happens, it will still be tough. I know we like to analyze, get all upset about their lack of effort, etc. But at the end of the day, fans are fans, bloggers are bloggers. It’s always hard to see the season end for a team you’re invested in, no matter how they played.

As I watched the last few minutes of Game 4 hoping for a tying goal from the Wild, I was sitting on my couch with nervous anticipation. Still invested in the team. It was hard seeing the chances fail to connect, plus the usual passing clinic rather than firing shots at the net (still so frustrating). But they had a chance, and since they were so close I admit I really couldn’t help but wonder how much the series would change with a late Wild victory to tie the series.

That didn’t happen. So now they’re on the brink of elimination. It’s still hard to be optimistic that the series will extend for a Game 6. Everything else about this season and this team aside, it comes down to one game tonight, really. It’s always a toss up to see which team arrives on the ice – the one that’s ready to play from puck drop, or the one that takes the first period to get its legs under it.

We just don’t know. But we’ll watch anyway. Besides, there’s one thing we do know: This could be it.

This was originally posted at

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Put a positive spin on it

So, I’m going to do something a little different here, what with the entire universe picking the Wild to get creamed by the Dallas Stars in the first round. Let’s look at why the Minnesota Wild could win this round.

I know, I know, how can we get on board with that, right? All the statistics are against the Wild, plus the pesky injury bug has hit locker room. Well, let’s take a look.

It’s about streaks
This Wild team is full of ups and downs, as we all know. They win a few, then they jump off a cliff for a few games. And so it goes. To end the regular season – which arguably doesn’t mean anything once the page turns to the postseason (an argument I don’t totally but into) – the Wild dropped five games in a row. Then they should be on schedule to win a few games, right? It’s how they roll.

Looking ahead
Dallas could easily take this series lightly. I mean, they’re the top seed in the Western Conference, heavily favored to beat up on the players from their former state. Dallas is stacked with some good talent, to be sure, but even the best players and best teams can look past opponents when the matchup seems lopsided.

On paper v. on the ice
I can’t get the expression out of my head: “That’s why you don’t play the games on paper.” And “that’s why they play the games.” We all think (or many of us) the Wild will lose to the Stars and it won’t be close. That’s what makes me think they could surprise everybody. This team has done it before. Heck, in that terrible January they had, they managed to beat Dallas 2-1 - in Dallas. They can play with the top teams; they swept the season series of Chicago. When this Wild team is playing well, it plays really playing well.

Players get hot
The postseason is often where players come out of the woodwork and shine for their teams. Teams can get hot at the right times, and so can players. Maybe Devan Dubnyk will become that stone wall we all saw during last year’s second half. We’ve seen Erik Haula shine in the playoffs before. Heck, even Mikael Granlund had that awesome overtime goal against Colorado a couple years ago. What’s cool about this factor is it’s usually some low-key player, a youngster or basically just a non-star (no pun intended) on the team. With Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek out hurt, it’s a perfect chance for somebody else to step up. Charlie Coyle, Granlund, Jason Zucker. You never know, and that’s what is cool about it.

Beware of the flukes
Things can get chippy in the playoffs. Maybe it’s a close game and a fluke bounce wins it. Who’s to say the Wild won’t get one of those bounces? To borrow from “Angels in the Outfield,” “It could happen.” Grab a quick lead in a game or steal one on the road, and it can turn a series around. The momentum would really shift if that underdog team – the Wild – could capitalize on some of those flukes.

That’s all I’ve got. I thought there would be more solid material here, but there’s not a lot to work with. I tried.

Now, let’s hope the Wild try, too.

This was originally posted at

Thursday, April 7, 2016

That is not how you make the playoffs

Beep… Beep… Beep…

OK, that’s been used a lot this past week in reference to the Minnesota Wild’s uncanny ability to back right in to the playoffs. Overused or not, it’s still true.

For the fourth year in a row, the Wild will play in the postseason. This has got to be the least excited/most frustrated I’ve been with the team as it heads into the playoffs. They clinched because Colorado sucked more, basically.

I guess their passion for the golf course runs deeper.

The Wild got themselves in a pretty good position with a six-game win streak recently. Then this team did what it does best: It promptly lost four games. Once again, they don’t just lose. They take it to a jump-off-a-bridge kind of level.

Tuesday was just another example. The lineup – on game No. 81 – was shaken up with scratches and Iowa call-ups. The urgency was nowhere to be found. The result was a 3-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks and a restless Xcel Energy Center crowd that booed the hometown boys off the ice. Then they clinched their old friend the No. 8 spot in the West, thanks to an Avs loss.

I hope the Wild players carved out some team bonding time yesterday so they could all write some thank-you notes to their rivals.

To add to the frustration of last night, there were the postgame comments from the locker room and Coach Torch. Let’s just say these guys are living in a dream world. It’s like they think they’re going to fly on a magic carpet to the playoffs and simply show up to the rink in order to get wins.

Let’s take a look at what they had to say, shall we?

“I’m kind of disappointed how everyone is saying we’re backing into the playoffs,” Torch said. “How do you back into the playoffs going [15-10-1]? You don’t do that. The guys have done a great job. I’m proud of them. They could have folded when I got here too, so I’m really proud of them.”

My word, that’s like something Tim “I’m proud of our guys” Brewster would say.
Devan Dubnyk: “These four games really don’t matter. We’re there now. We worked our way to get there with a great march.”

Mikko Koivu said they should be talking about the recent six-game winning streak rather than Tuesday’s game. He was all about the positivity.

“If we’re in the playoffs, that’s great news for the organization,” Koivu said.
At least Zach Parise had this to say: “We’ve got a lot of work that we need to do. There’s just some areas of our play that aren’t good. That’s inexcusable in game 81. You can’t play the last four games the way we have.”

That’s for sure.

Then again, Parise also started blaming the media for being too negative. And I think Koivu joined in, too. There are a lot of things wrong with that.

Ryan Suter thought they played well against San Jose. He also had this to say: “Your goal during the season is to get into the playoffs, and we’re in the playoffs. And now our goal is to win the Stanley Cup.”

All together now: Are. You. Kidding. Me?

Look, I get players not wanting to be overly negative and walk that positive-spin line. But come on. Who do these guys think they’re fooling?

This is exactly why I would have been fine if the Wild missed the playoffs this year. Because they manage to sneak in, and now the entire regular season is just an afterthought. Never mind that they essentially quit and got their coach fired. Never mind that January was an absolutely terrible month of hockey for them. Never mind that, once again, this is a lineup that we thought should be contenders for top seeds and home ice advantage rather than resting at the bottom of the playoff picture.

Remember that the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012 as the No. 8 seed. So because of that, there’s this mentality out there that seedings don’t matter because in the playoffs “anything can happen.” There’s some logic to that. After all, this is sports. You just can’t use that as the go-time all the time however, like the Wild are apparently trying to do.

Sure, anything can happen. Like getting swept in four games. The Wild hasn’t shown it can be a playoff-caliber team. So excuse the fanbase for collectively scratching heads when this issue comes up.

I’m not really sure what to expect from these guys in the playoffs. You think you have them figured out, then they completely turn the tables in the blink of an eye. I guess I’ll just go with what my expectations have been the past couple seasons as well: Win two playoff rounds, and really, win the Conference Finals, too.

That’s where this team should be right now, you’d think. There were a lot of negative vibes on Twitter Tuesday night about this team, for good reason.
The Wild have a chance to prove us all wrong.

This was originally posted at