There’s no other way to say it: It’s been 15 years since the Wild and Timberwolves played more meaningful games on the same night as they will Wednesday evening.
The Wild opens the playoffs with Game 1 at Winnipeg. The Wolves have a win-or-stay-home game against the Nuggets at Target Center. Both games are on FSN, with the Wild getting the main channel at 6 p.m. and the Wolves heading over to FSN-Plus for their 7 p.m. start. Here are five things to know about the night as you attempt to sort out your feelings and stress:
1) If you’re a Wild fan only, Wednesday night marks the beginning of the sixth consecutive postseason in which your favorite team has participated. While such things should be appreciated and not taken for granted, there’s also a sense of urgency and wanting more for the Wild, which hasn’t made it past the second round any any of the previous five years.
Another hasty exit — even against a heavily favored Jets team, even in a season during which the Wild has persevered through numerous injuries — would reinforce the idea that the Wild’s roster construction is lacking. There’s also this: The Wild has the second-oldest roster in the NHL this year, with an average player age of 29.2. The clock is ticking.
2) If you’re a Wolves fan only, you’re painfully aware that the team hasn’t made the postseason since 2003-04. This year’s squad has already won 46 games — most since their last season in the playoffs — but squandered opportunities against lesser teams, combined with Jimmy Butler’s injury and the rest of the West catching fire has put the Wolves in a perilous spot. If they defeat Denver, they’re in. If they lose, they’re out.
Utah’s win Tuesday means the Wolves can no longer be the No. 5 seed. They can still improve to a No. 6 seed (unlikely because it means OKC would have to lose to Memphis) or a No. 7 (more likely since that would involve a San Antonio win over New Orleans). But they will almost definitely be facing either Houston or Golden State even if they make the playoffs. That said, just getting in after missing the postseason in 13 consecutive years would be a step forward even if a quick exit would be unsatisfying based on earlier expectations.
The offseason trade for Butler accelerated their rebuilding timeline. While they’ve already improved by 15 wins over last season — more than any other team in the West — missing the playoffs would set up a potentially turbulent offseason. Will Butler stay long-term? What can be done about Andrew Wiggins, whose five-year max extension is set to kick in after a disappointing fourth NBA season? Is Tom Thibodeau’s message getting through, and is it the right message? Some of those questions will be asked this offseaason regardless, but they will be amplified by a loss tonight and softened by a victory.
3) If you’re a fan of both teams and all Minnesota sports in general, tonight is just going to be flat-out electric (and doubly stressful). The second period of the Wild game should start right around the time the Wolves tip off, while the third period will be going on during the Wolves’ second half. If the Wild game goes into overtime — remember, it’s 5-on-5 in the playoffs so it will last more than 12 seconds — and overlaps with crunch time in the Wolves game, we could reach peak levels of stress around 9:15 p.m.
4) Remember, these teams have only made the playoffs in the same year one time — 2002-03. That makes April 29, 2003 the last time they had games of this magnitude on the same night. The Wolves lost 120-90 to the Lakers en route to losing that first-round series in six games, while the Wild lost 3-2 to Vancouver before eventually winning that series.
5) If the Wolves win, this year would also mark the first time the Lynx, Twins, Vikings, Wild and Wolves all made the postseason consecutively. It ALMOST happened in 2003, when the Lynx, Wolves, Wild and Twins made it before the Vikings squandered a 6-0 start by losing to every terrible team in the NFL and missed the playoffs on Nate Poole’s miracle catch. (Of course, now Minnesota United is also part of the major pro sports mix).
This year’s Wolves remind me more of those 2003 Vikings than any other local team since in the past 15 years. Wolves fans will just have to hope there are no Poole moments tonight. And fans of both the Wolves and Wild will have to hope there are even bigger nights than this one on the horizon this spring.