Less than a week ago in this space, we spent a great deal of time lamenting the misfortunes of four local teams. During a stretch starting late in 2014 and extending into the new year, the Wild, Timberwolves, Gophers men’s basketball and Gophers men’s hockey teams were a combined 2-20.
It was so bad that we set odds on which would be the next to simply win a game.
The Timberwolves were set as the biggest long shot to be the first to win, but they were the ones to break through. And a funny thing happened after Mo Williams’ 52-point outburst last week: Winning became contagious.
Since that 2-20 stretch, the four teams are a combined 6-3-1 — punctuated by Saturday, when all four of them won on the same day for the first time in who knows how long.
Was it magic? Hardly. Just a few simple things that finally started to go Minnesota’s way:
Goaltending: Devan Dubnyk has stopped 43 of 44 shots on goal in his two starts since joining the Wild. He hasn’t been terribly busy. But he has, at least through two games, given Minnesota the stability at the position that it has craved and lacked for almost this entire season.
Goalie is perhaps the single most important position in any team sport. Starting pitchers and quarterbacks might argue with that, but when a team is getting poor goaltending, it exacerbates a lot of problems. When goaltending is good, it minimizes those problems. Dubnyk is giving the Wild a chance, and the team has responded with consecutive victories by a combined 10-1 score.
Guard play: The Gophers were winless in Big Ten basketball play before Saturday in large part because their senior guards, considered a strength going into the season, hadn’t performed to their full capabilities. The Wolves have struggled for a variety of reasons this year, and guard play is among them.
Both teams have turned the trend around in a big way recently. Williams’ 52 points almost singlehandedly helped the Wolves stop their 15-game losing streak. Then Andrew Wiggins scored a career-high 31 points on Saturday in a victory in Denver — the same point total senior Andre Hollins reached for the Gophers as they ended their Big Ten skid against Rutgers.
Schedule: It’s no secret, too, that the schedule eased up for a few of these teams. The Wild got healthy against Buffalo and Arizona, two of the weakest teams in the NHL. The Gophers men’s hockey team had a win and a tie against bottom-feeding Wisconsin. Rutgers at Williams Arena was the Gophers’ easiest game after a tough first five.
Can they all keep it up? Hard to say. It’s probably best to just enjoy rare days like Saturday when they happen.