The plucky local team, filled with optimism and promise after a strong regular season, barrels into a playoff series against an opponent that might have a tendency to bicker or coast at times but that also has a rich recent championship pedigree, a ton of top-end talent and the ability to find another gear when the bright lights come on.
The local team plays well enough at times to win, poorly enough to deserve to lose at other times, while the strong opponent keeps the local team a arm’s length — making their fans feel like there’s a chance before crushing their spirit with turn-on-a-dime momentum switches.
You have heard this before, of course. This was the story of the Wild vs. Blackhawks two years ago and again last season. This is the story so far again in this year’s playoffs, with Minnesota down 2-0 after two losses in Chicago — one a well-fought heartbreaker and Sunday’s an all-around dud.
And this is also, unfortunately, the story of the Twins and Yankees in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010 — when New York went 12-2 against Minnesota and won all four series despite feeling like the Twins had a realistic chance to win at least a couple of times.
We’re not at Twins/Yankees crisis level yet in this series or in this progression of yearly matchups. Game 3 is Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center, and this can still be the series people want it to be if (as happened last season) the Wild is able to win the next two games in St. Paul.
But Chicago is 10-3 now in playoff games against the Wild over the past three seasons, and the Blackhawks are giving off a maddening Yankees vibe of looking vulnerable at times before leaning on a combination of skill and championship pedigree that Minnesota can’t match.
Maybe too much is made of the psychological edge in matchups where one franchise has owned the other, but in the case of Twins vs. Yankees it definitely seemed to be a factor. In 2004, the Twins had the best pitcher in baseball (Johan Santana), a huge edge in a five-game series. The Twins won one of his starts, blew another one and lost in four games. By 2010, the last of the four playoff matchups, the Twins had the home field advantage and a veteran roster every bit as good as New York’s, if not better. It didn’t matter; they were swept away.
The difference, you might say, is that the Wild has at least advanced in the playoffs to face Chicago the last two years — unlike the Twins, who were one-and-done in every series with the Yankees. To that, I’d say this: Each time the Twins faced the Yankees, they were two of the eight teams left in the playoffs — just as the Wild and Hawks were last year and this year. So really it’s the same spot.
The Blackhawks might not be in the Wild’s head. They might just be a better team. But if Chicago goes on to win this series, making it three in a row, there will be no doubt who the new nemesis in town is. And given how the NHL playoffs are structured to pit divisional teams against each other in the playoffs, it’s a foe the Wild is likely going to have to topple at some point if it is going to keep making progress toward the ultimate goal of hoisting the Stanley Cup.