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Zulgad: Head-scratcher: A brutal week continues for Minnesota sports fans

Even by Minnesota sports standards the past five days have been brutal. Ugly beyond belief.

The Wild, the Wolves, Gophers men’s and women’s basketball? There is no team that hasn’t been actively trying to disappoint us. Even the biggest homer in town couldn’t put a happy face on this mess.

The latest blow came Wednesday night in Champaign, Ill.

That was when the Gophers, coming off an 88-70 victory over a brutal Rutgers team at Williams Arena, put forth little to no effort in a 95-68 loss to an abysmal collection from Illinois. It was the Illini’s first Big Ten victory  after five losses. Illinois is now 5-12 overall.

Clearly, the Gophers felt it was time for them to join in the party that has become Minnesota’s sports futility.

This started — at least in its present and brutal form — on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center. No surprise, the guilty part was the Minnesota Wild. The Detroit Red Wings entered the game tied for the fewest victories in the NHL and at the bottom of the Atlantic Division. There was no excuse for the Wild to come out flat, or miss an opportunity to pick up an important two points.

Only, the Wild looked as if they didn’t give a damn and ended up being embarrassed. Final score: Red Wings 5, Wild 2. Bruce Boudreau called it “the worst game that we’ve played since I’ve been here as coach.” Boudreau, who is in his third season in Minnesota, put his team through an intense practice the next day, hoping it would provide a spark for Monday’s game in Philadelphia.

The Flyers entered as the worst team in the NHL. Certainly, the Wild wouldn’t have another clunker. Minnesota took a 2-0 lead and the rout was on, right? Not exactly. Final score: Philadelphia 7, Minnesota 4.

OK, so the Wild were a hopeless mess but what about the Gophers women’s basketball team? First-year coach Lindsay Whalen had guided her team to a 12-0 start that included a 74-56 victory over Wisconsin in its Big Ten opener. That was followed by losses at Michigan, to Illinois and at No. 23 Michigan State last Wednesday.

Minnesota sports fans needed some good news and Whalen’s Gophers had a chance to provide it on Monday night against Iowa at Williams Arena. That didn’t come close to happening as the No. 22 Hawkeyes cruised to an 81-63 victory over the Gophers. It was Minnesota’s fourth consecutive defeat and the way the week is going one has to wonder if that stretch will end Thursday night in Madison, Wis., against the Badgers.

Things might not have gone as well as hoped on Monday but Tuesday was a new day. The sun came up and the Wild and Timberwolves were both in action. The Wild was not only home, but by playing so poorly against the Flyers, Minnesota enabled Philadelphia to get out  of the NHL’s basement and be replaced by Los Angeles.

That came just in time for the Kings to arrive in downtown St. Paul. Of course, by this point that wasn’t necessarily considered a good thing. The Wild had backup goalie Alex Stalock start in place of Devan Dubnyk and Minnesota, as it so often does when faced with adversity, responded with an actual effort.

The issue is that when Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is few are better at that position and Quick was on in a big way. Nonetheless, the Wild held a 2-1 lead on goals by Nino Niederreiter and Eric Staal late into the third period. That was when the Kings’ Jeff Carter beat Stalock with 2 minutes, 30 seconds remaining to force overtime and give Los Angeles a point.

The Wild won on Jason Zucker’s goal in a shootout — Quick finished with 40 saves — but at least the Wild had two points. The fact it came against a bottom-feeder? Hey, you can’t be picky. Or at least we can’t.

The Wolves weren’t facing a bottom-feeder. They had every reason to come out and play their best game against the Sixers. Jimmy Butler had forced his way out of Minnesota and was shipped to Philadelphia in a November trade. This was a chance for Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins to let Butler know that they didn’t appreciate the fact Butler felt they couldn’t win.

The Wolves, now coached by 32-year-old Ryan Saunders, had a great chance to make a statement to Butler that he was wrong. Even if the Wolves didn’t win, putting Butler on his butt a few times would feel good. Final score: Sixers 149, Wolves 107. Final result: Butler laughing at the Wolves, again.

Next up: The Gophers women facing Wisconsin and the Wild playing host to Anaheim on Thursday. The Badgers (1-4) are tied for last in the Big Ten with the Gophers and Illinois. The Ducks have lost 12 in a row. This should be two opportunities for victories.

Should be is the key part of that sentence. The way things are going the advice from this end if simple: Watch at your own risk.


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