The Wild took the Bridgestone Arena ice for the game-day skate at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday in Nashville. Back in the Twin Cities, the Timberwolves were assembling on The Courts at Mayo Clinic Square for a noontime practice in advance of Wednesday’s home game against Atlanta.
There was extra attention paid to the Wild skate since Jordan Greenway, the newly-signed, huge forward from Boston U, was a participatant and ready to make his NHL debut against the Predators.
The Wolves practice included Justin Patton, the 7-foot, No. 16 overall draft choice, and also eligible for his big-league debut, but nobody cared, since coach Tom Thibodeau won’t use him anyway.
At that point, the winter pro teams both had played 75 games with 42 victories. There was an enormous difference in the satisfaction level over this from the fan bases.
On Sunday, there was an over-capacity crowd of 19,183 announced at the Xcel Energy Center, as the Wild entertained the Boston Bruins. The fans were united in their indignation in the middle of the second period, when a quick whistle nullified what would have been Jason Zucker’s 31st goal.
Eventually, the teams went to overtime, and Brian Marchand ended it after 28 seconds, 2-1 for Boston.
Ryan Suter, already leading the NHL in average ice at 26:50 per game, had played 28 minutes in regulation and was sent out by coach Bruce Boudreau as part of the three-player first unit in overtime.
Not one of the faster skaters, Suter was helpless to defend once Matt Dumba gave up the puck. The “minutes police,’’ very busy in Minneapolis all season, were nowhere to be heard in the postgame discussion.
The customers merely groaned in unison when Marchand’s bulls-eye shot beat goalie Alex Stalock, then headed for the exits, content in the knowledge their beloved Wild had gained three of four points in the back-to-back home games against Nashville and Boston.
This is one great advantage for the hockey team in the competition of an NHL/NBA market: A fair number of losses are registered instead as half-victories.
The Wild’s official record was 42-24-9 entering Tuesday, which looks a whole lot better than the 42-33 for the Timberwolves. The Wild also stand fifth in the Western Conference and is headed to the playoffs for the sixth straight season.
Always the playoffs have ended within two rounds, yet the arena has remained at 102 percent capacity and the contentment in the high 90s as the Wild continue to be a capable outfit.
The Wild does have that nucleus of players who are eternally expected to reach stardom, and Zucker has gotten there at age 26. On the other hand, Charlie Coyle, also 26 and a powerful forward with outstanding hands, was little in evidence for most of Sunday’s game.
Coyle had a broken leg and missed time early in the season, and was playing OK for a few games before Sunday, but if this was the other side of town and the name was Wiggins … Charlie would have heard more about Sunday’s effort.
That’s the difference in playing 15 minutes in shifts, and 40 minutes in the constricted space of a basketball court. It's also the difference in playing for $3.5 million in 2017-18, as is Coyle, or having signed for as much future money as two seasons of the Wild’s full payroll, as has Wiggins.
As the Wild was trying to get Greenway up to speed at Tuesday’s skate, the Wolves were back in Minneapolis being forced to digest a Monday defeat that concluded with them being booed off the court.
This was loss No. 1,403 in the Wolves’ 29 seasons, and few have been worse than this: 101-93 to Memphis, a team that had lost 23 of 24 games, a tanking team that had lost by 61 points to Charlotte last week.
This loss was the final charge on the Thibodeau indictment for many fans. The Timberwolves coach is flat-out the most unpopular sports figure in the Twin Cities at this moment.
This team has not been to the playoffs since 2004, but my read is if you promised the small, disheartened band of Wolves loyalists that missing the playoffs meant Thibodeau would be fired, they would vote to miss the playoffs.
It’s amazing the different atmosphere surrounding 42 wins and 33 losses.
In St. Paul, there is a vision of the Wild vs. Winnipeg in the first round that would create pregame madness on West Seventh Street. In Minneapolis, the only madness is aimed at the coach … and Wiggins, of course, now 23 and widely perceived in these parts as a bust.
This isn’t hockey, Andrew. You can’t hide the occasional evening of flotation.