This is not a question for Minnesotans who became ardent NHL followers with the arrival of the Wild in downtown St. Paul in the fall of 2000. This is a question for Minnesotans who became ardent NHL followers with the arrival of the North Stars on the Bloomington prairie in the fall of 1967.
And here it is: Doesn’t it feel as if this finally is the year?
There have been 40 seasons of the modern NHL here (North Stars 26, Wild 14), and there have been three playoff runs that captured Minnesota’s sporting soul. All three were long shots where it seemed inevitably they would fail against a superior force.
A Stanley Cup victory for the 1980-81 North Stars over the New York Islanders, defending champions and builders of a dynasty, would have been shocking. A Stanley Cup victory for the 1990-91 North Stars over Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins would have been miraculous. The journey of the 2002-03 Wild already was miraculous by the time it lost to the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference finals.
But now the Wild is sending out a deep, fast, defensively masterful collection of athletes that made up the best team in the West after the arrival of goalie Devan Dubnyk on Jan. 15.
Already, the Wild has frustrated a tough, talented, desperate-to-advance St. Louis team, and did so with relative ease. Next come the Blackhawks, certainly talented but uncertain in goal, and also knowing that the Wild team that gave them so much trouble in the second round last spring is twice the threat this time around.
As my radio partner Joe Soucheray, a hockey aficionado, says, a Stanley Cup run becomes a question of which group of players wants to keep putting on that stinky equipment and yielding five pounds of sweat every night.
This will be the 18th playoff series for Chicago — for the Blackhawks of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Niklas Hjalmarsson — since the spring of 2009. Already, they have Cups from 2010 and 2013.
You could never question the competitive hearts of these noble Hawks, and yet how could they possibly be as hungry to play into another June as will be Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and the gifted young men that follow them?
There’s also this: The Wild is probably a better team. It was 14 points better (in comparison to .500) than the Blackhawks once Dubnyk became the goaltender. A share of that is because Kane missed from Feb. 24 to the start of the playoffs because of a fractured collarbone, but only a share.
Yet this feeling goes beyond Wild backers being able to look more optimistically about a Blackhawks series than in the previous two postseasons.
It’s more the idea that North America’s ultimate hockey prize is destined to land here — a place where hockey is now revered from Lake of the Woods to Luverne — and when it happens, it should be the result of a fantastic comeback led by a magical character.
I was walking to Xcel Energy Center on Sunday and saw a poster advertising a run of “Damn Yankees” in June at the Ordway Theater. That is the musical version of Douglass Wallop’s novel, “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant,” in which Joe Boyd sells his soul to the devil in order to transform into rookie slugger Joe Hardy and help his beloved, woebegone Washington Senators defeat the Yankees and win the American League.
Hardy was a real estate agent before he became the star of the Senators’ revival. Dubnyk was a goalie with the Coyotes, trying to rebuild his psyche after earlier in his career serving as the target in the shooting gallery run by the defenseless Edmonton Oilers.
The Wild surely was woebegone, 12th in the West, when General Manager Chuck Fletcher traded a third-round pick to Arizona for Dubnyk.
I would not suggest Dubnyk sold his soul to the devil to become the top goaltender in the West. As for Fletcher, that’s between him and his maker.
There is no belief here that Minnesota is jinxed in the major pro sports. The Vikings weren’t good enough to beat four different AFL/AFC powerhouses in a Super Bowl. The North Stars weren’t good enough in 1981 or ’91.
The Twins weren’t good enough to beat Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers in 1965, but they were good enough to win it all in 1987 with Frank Viola, and in 1991 with Jack Morris, and always with Kirby and Herbie.
That’s what separates these Wild-ings from our past failed pursuers. They have some magic in Dubnyk, which always helps, but more than that, they are good enough to win all of it.
Denver has two Stanley Cups. Disneyland has one. Tampa, Fla., and Raleigh, N.C., have one. Dallas has one (which hurts).
The time is now to get one where it will be fully appreciated.