It's the ultimate pat on the head in the most patronizing way from teams to blindly devout fans across all leagues and across all markets - the moral victory. Nowhere is that more apparent than right here in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Minnesota Fan has been stuck in the rut of mediocrity for so long now that fans forget what it is like to expect your teams to win rather than just be lucky to have been there.
Saturday was a harsh reminder of that very reality of the Minnesota sports franchises. The University of Minnesota Golden Gopher football squad hasn't been a factor in the Big Ten since the late 1960's. They haven't won in Madison to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers in over 20 years. This year was a very promising year in comparison to years past. After two straight bowl appearances, they were on the cusp of winning the West division of the Big Ten Conference, and a game away from meeting Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game. What did the Gophers do? After getting off to a 17-3 lead, the Badgers scored 24 straight points to take the lead for good. Sure the Gophers were able to cut the lead to three, but in the moment of the truth the Badgers went right back down to score and regain the 10 point lead.
After the game Gopher fans everywhere felt a sense of pride for the team making it interesting and that they were just happy to relish in the fact that their team was just playing in a meaningful game in the last game of the season that had high stakes and implications. Others were ready give the pat on the head to Gophers for just being there.
The Vikings hosted the Packers two Sundays ago. In the previous match-up, the Packers torched the Vikings 42-10. This time around, the Vikings kept it slightly closer with a 24-21 loss in which the defense was able to slow Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy. What was heard after the most recent game was that the Vikings had a much better loss because they kept it closer. Fans saw the positives from their rookie quarterback and a defense that had improved play, but it still wasn't good enough.
Timberwolves fans find some semblance of solace when their front office is able to get a decent return for trading away their only star caliber player on the team. That franchise has been stuck in such a swoon that any sign of hope is usually quashed by a elongated injury to Ricky Rubio or previously Kevin Love.
Minnesota Wild fans are stuck in crossfire of mixed feelings on this season thus far. With expectations raised considerably by having two straight playoff appearances and one series win last year, fans are expecting more. The Wild is expecting more this season too. They knew they had deficiencies in the goal scoring department so they went out and signed prolific scoring forward Thomas Vanek. This team should be better than 9th place in the Western Conference. On many nights this season, they have played like an elite NHL team, yet the goals haven't come in droves like fans have expected.
That brings us to Saturday's game against the Blues. On one hand, the Wild, in 9th place, out-played possession-wise against the top team in the conference and only lost in a shootout. On the other, the Wild are supposed to be one of those top teams in the West and should have been able to put the Blues away on regulation, but a bad turnover trying to exit the defensive zone cost them the two points.
So how should Wild fans feel about the season and how it has played out after 23 games? I am as confused by this period of transition from bad to good by the Wild as most fans are. One minute I'm feeling good about a good performance even though they were on the short end, the next I'm frustrated and upset that the Wild seemingly fail at certain aspects of finishing. Part of me says that I should be happy with a win, the other wants to nit-pick the hell out of the Wild's game to see what could have been better. It's a wide range of emotions and a very Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde persona that myself, as well as other Wild fans, have taken on.
In this period of raised expectations, the Wild should be better than their record states. But then the old saying goes, "You are what you are."
So, is the Wild the team that they've shown 20 games in? Is it the team that has (for the most part) dominated in the Fenwick and Corsi stats most nights only to struggle putting the puck in the net that people say the shooting percentage will regress to the mean? Or is it the team that can't put away teams because they struggle to score, fall back into a defensive shell and cough up three-goal leads from time-to-time? What about the team that can score seven goals like they did versus Tampa Bay earlier this season and were getting all kids of production from its defensemen like never before? Then there's the team that can rattle off five of six, but also lost four straight before that.
As Wild fans, this is new territory for us. We should do what we can to enjoy the wins and the way the Wild have dominated teams. We should also be weary of the mistakes, decisions, and poor play that has plagued this team as they currently sit on the outside looking in on the playoff picture after 23 games.
So should we give the team the pat on the head when they try hard, but can't cinch the win? Or should we start ostracizing the team for every loss? Tell me what you think, Wild fans, how should we be handling this situation?