Minnesota has three major professional teams in-season: the Timberwolves, Wild and Vikings. All three faced interesting games in rapid-fire succession this past weekend, and all got the best possible answers and outcomes for which they could have hoped. That doesn’t happen often, so let’s recap what that means:
Timberwolves on Friday
It’s hard to give back so quickly all the good will afforded a team after a last-second victory, but the Timberwolves had managed to do that in the two games following Andrew Wiggins’ heroics a week ago Sunday by giving up a combined 252 points in a pair of lethargic losses.
Newly acquired forward Jimmy Butler (above) missed both of those clunkers because of a respiratory infection. When he returned Friday against the Thunder — the same team Wiggins had knocked out with his banked-in three pointer — Butler brought with him an important question: Was the Wolves’ apparent disinterest in a pair of winnable games at least in part a function of missing their best two-way player?
Butler returned and delivered a virtuoso performance in a victory (25 points, seven assists, five rebounds in 38 grueling minutes) that gave Wolves fans hope, at least, that the troubles were temporary. It’s perhaps a little alarming just how much Minnesota already appears to be depending on Butler, but the Wolves are 3-1 when he plays.
Wild on Saturday
Minnesota registered a badly needed 6-4 victory over the Islanders on Thursday after starting a six-game homestand with a sleeping pill of a 1-0 loss against Vancouver.
The six-goal outburst was good for the locker room, but it was also the fourth time in seven starts this season that goalie Devan Dubnyk (above) allowed at least four goals.
What the Wild hadn’t done much up until Saturday was win a competitive, tight, low-scoring game. If anything, the Wild’s best example of that came when Dubnyk’s backup, Alex Stalock, helped Minnesota to a 4-2 win at Calgary the previous weekend. So when Dubnyk got the call Saturday against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins, it was an important test.
The Wild probably wasn’t on the verge of a goaltending controversy — or at least conundrum — but if there were any whispers of such a thing Dubnyk alleviated concerns with 29 saves in a 2-1 win.
Vikings on Sunday
It’s hard to think of a neutral-site game against a winless team as important, but the Vikings’ game in London against the Browns qualifies.
The Vikings trailed at halftime, but in pulling away for a 33-16 victory, they achieved a couple of things. First, they got to the bye at 6-2 — taking advantage of a forgiving first-half schedule in a meaningful way.
Second, they got another above-average performance from backup quarterback Case Keenum (above). He’s done more than just not lose games. He’s helped the Vikings win games. They’re 5-2 in games in which he’s played a major role.
It’s hard to say where the Vikings’ always-interesting quarterback situation will lead for the rest of this season, but Keenum’s play gives them a viable option regardless of the health of Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford — and at least means the Vikings don’t have to be in a rush to make a change after the bye.