Dane Mizutani: It’s OK to fall in love with the Wild again. This team is for real
During a seven-game winning streak, the Wild have proven themselves legitimate contenders
Listen up, Minnesotans.
You’re forgiven for doing everything in your power over the past couple of months not to get too attached to the Wild. You’ve bought into a hometown team in the past only to have it break your heart. Usually in the most excruciating way possible.
What if Gary Anderson didn’t miss that kick? What if Brett Favre never threw that pass across his body? Maybe the Vikings win those Super Bowls. Yes. Both.
What if the New York Yankees didn’t exist? Maybe the Twins would have gone on a magical run to a World Series at some point over the past couple of decades rather than lose 18 consecutive postseason games.
What if journeyman goaltender Jake Allen didn’t catch lightning in a bottle for, like, a week and a half during the 2017 postseason? Maybe the Wild beat the St. Louis Blues and roll all the way to the Stanley Cup.
What if Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns actually got along for more than a few months? Maybe the Timberwolves are legitimate contenders in the Western Conference by now.
From the Twin Cities to the Iron Range, it has become much, much easier to disassociate from Minnesota sports completely than actually live and die with every win and loss. You can’t get hurt if you never believed in the first place, right?
Well, this version of the Wild is worth believing in. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Wild (18-6-1, 37 points) sat alone atop the Western Conference and looking very much the part of a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
There was cautious optimism from the fan base earlier this season and it was completely understandable. After all, the Wild fell behind in seemingly every game for the first month before pulling off some escape acts that would make Harry Houdini jealous. There’s no way they could keep that up over the course of an 82-game regular season.
Which is why the past couple of weeks have been so revealing. There hasn’t been a need for miraculous comebacks during the current seven-game winning streak because the Wild have destroyed their opponents on most nights.
That includes Tuesday’s 4-1 win over Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, an impressive win in and of itself, and even more impressive considering the Wild earned a 4-3 shootout win over Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs two nights earlier.
Those wins were a statement to the rest of the league, and maybe more important, proof that it’s OK to fall in love with the Wild again. This team is for real, and unlike anything Minnesotans have ever seen.
As much as legendary coach Jacques Lemaire will always be revered in Minnesota, and for good reason, his nightly objective of mucking up the neutral zone wasn’t exactly fun to watch. Heck, even after Lemaire left, that style of play seemed to become a part of the organization’s DNA.
Not anymore. With coach Dean Evason behind the bench, the Wild employ an entertaining style of play that can produce different goal scorers on any given night. It’s not a coincidence that 12 different players already have double-digit point totals this season.
Leading the way in the scoring department with 30 points is Kirill Kaprizov, a 24-year-old superstar in the making who gives the Wild instant credibility every time they step foot on the ice. You need a superstar to win a Stanley Cup, and the Wild can finally say they have one.
It’s so much more than Kaprizov, though, and that’s what makes the Wild so dangerous.
You’ve got Ryan Hartman leading the charge up front with a team-high 13 goals, Mats Zuccarello setting up teammates on a nightly basis, Marcus Foligno playing the best hockey of his career, and Joel Eriksson Ek doing the dirty work, among a long list of other contributors.
On the blue line, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba have developed into a top-flight pairing with captain Jared Spurgeon out of the lineup. Alex Goligoski has made everyone completely forget about Ryan Suter, and depth players such as Dmitry Kulikov, Jon Merrill, and Jordie Been have fit right in.
Add in the fact that Cam Talbot has been unflappable between the pipes on the way to a league-high 14 wins and it’s easy to see how the Wild have established themselves as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender this season.
Maybe this all goes sideways as it has so many times in Minnesota. But maybe this time is truly different. Isn’t it worth being a part of the process of finding out?