The Wolves and Wild have had, in some ways, parallel seasons. How they arrived where they are right now has been slightly different, but here's what we know:
Both teams dispatched inferior opponents at home on Saturday to build some momentum. Both will play those exact teams on the road tonight (Utah for the Wolves, Dallas for the Wild). And both of those games kick off a mini-stretch of games that will tell us a lot about how the rest of the season could very well go.
For the Wolves, it kicks off a stretch of four consecutive games on the road. Minnesota is 7-13 away from Target Center this season. The game against the Jazz is very winnable. The next two -- at Golden State and at Portland -- will be difficult tests. The last one, at Chicago, is again very winnable now that the Bulls are in full rebuild mode without the injured Derrick Rose and after trading Luol Deng. If Minnesota clamps down on defense like it did at home against the Jazz, a 2-2 trip should be easy to find. A 3-1 trip that brings the team back to .500 would be within reach. But if the Wolves again struggle to be consistent, a 1-3 or even 0-4 trip that could bury them in the standings is very much in play.
For the Wild, the game at Dallas needs to yield two points. The Stars are below Minnesota in the standings, so it's a chance to bury them. But the game also represents the best chance for success during a brutal stretch. Minnesota's next four games after Dallas: home vs. Chicago, then at San Jose, Anaheim and Colorado. Those are four of the top five teams in the West, and three of the games are on the road. With Minnesota clinging to a spot in the playoffs -- tied with Vancouver in the 7th/8th spot, with Phoenix just four points behind (and having played two fewer games than the Wild -- this is a critical stretch. If the Wild, playing with Darcy Kuemper as its No. 1 goalie, comes through this with enough points and confidence, it could be a springboard to better times ahead. If Minnesota gets its doors blown off, it could start a slide.
It all starts tonight, with games both teams very much need to win.