VANCOUVER – When the Vancouver Canucks were a regular playoff contender, their biggest rival at the start of the 21st century was the Minnesota Wild.
Then the Chicago Blackhawks came and made everyone forget the Wild. In the end, the National Hockey League looked at a map and separated Minnesota and Vancouver in a division realignment and that was it. Hatred has faded and the Wild has become an afterthought.
Did Darby Hendrickson and Wes Walz really win a Wild Expansion playoff against the Canucks in 2003 when Vancouver had Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, Ed Jovanovski and Mattias Ohlund, and an open road to the Stanley Cup final? Incredibly, yes.
Seventeen years after the Wild rallied a 3-1 deficit to win its seven-game series in the second round, rivalry could reignite this summer if the NHL successfully returns from stopping the coronavirus and orders a playoff confrontation between Vancouver and Minnesota in a hub city to be named later.
According to Elliotte Friedman’s report, the league and its players’ association are working on a 24-team Stanley Cup tournament that will see the fifth-seeded 12 seeders from each conference play a five-game playoff streak the last 16.
This format, strewn with winning percentages when the NHL stopped on March 12, is number 7 in Vancouver against number 10 in Minnesota.
This confrontation doesn’t really race to the heart, but the idea of the return of hockey does, and all the post-season games will be important for an emerging Canucks team led by a handful of young stars who have not never experienced a Stanley Cup playoff game.
“This is another step,” general manager Jim Benning told Sportsnet.ca on Thursday. “It was our plan from the start of the year – the next step for our young players is to learn to play in the playoffs with the intensity and the sense of urgency. That was our goal at the start of the year, and if we can participate, I think it will be fantastic for the development of our young guys. “
These guys include Elias Pettersson, 21, Calder Trophy winner, Quinn Hughes, current rookie of the year, 20, forwards Brock Boeser, Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette, and team captain Bo Horvat, 25 . , whose only playoff experience came five years ago when he was an NHL rookie deployed to the fourth row.
Starting goalkeeper Jacob Markstrom, 30, has also never played in a play-off, nor has rookie replacement Thatcher Demko, 24.
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This is why the leadership of Canucks veterans like Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, J.T. Miller and former Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup winners Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are essential.
“We have these young offensive players who are really good,” Canucks coach Travis Green told us last month. “But our team has not played in the types of games where every square inch of ice counts. We started doing it this year. And it’s important, it’s vital.
“I think we’re getting there in terms of what a team looks like when they win. We have started doing this in the last 10-15 games. Even though we lost a few games, I felt like we were a team that played for each other. We were in the difficult areas of the ice.
“If you don’t have three lines of highly skilled players, you’d better realize the type of team you are. I think that to win in the NHL and win Stanley Cups, you have to have a certain mentality and certain traits in your group, and I think we are getting there. “
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The Canucks placed in the top eight of the Western Conference with a 5-4 shootout victory over the New York Islanders on March 10, which turned out to be Vancouver’s last game. But despite a good overall game, the Canucks have lost five of their previous six games when Markstrom was absent with a knee injury and Boeser was absent due to a broken cartilage in the ribs.
But all of the Canucks except midfielder Josh Leivo (knee brace) and Micheal Ferland (concussion) are in good health now, and Leivo, at least, should be ready to play in the summer.
“I am delighted that our team is in good health and that we will have a healthy group,” said Benning. “But having said that, all the other teams should also be in good health. We’re going to be in the mix (playoffs) with whatever they decide, so we’re just waiting for what the league agrees to do with the Players’ Association. “
The Canucks were 1-1-1 against the Wild this season, and when Minnesota won 4-3 in a shootout in Vancouver on February 19, the result seemed irrelevant to the playoff race. Newly won winger Alex Galchenyuk scored his first goal for the Wild – a double ricochet that bounced off the face of Canucks defenseman Troy Stecher – to tie the game with 4:45 left before beating Markstrom to complete a shootout of five rounds.
But under coach Dean Evason, who had just replaced the dismissed Bruce Boudreau, the victory kicked off an 8-3-0 run in Minnesota that saw the Wild score 43 goals and make its way up to the playoffs. When the season ended, Minnesota was just one point behind 36-27-6 Vancouver, who tied with Nashville for sixth place with a winning percentage (0.565), but lost at the first tiebreaker. The Canucks are followed by the Calgary Flames (0.564) and the Winnipeg Jets (0.563).
You won’t ask any of the Canucks to say it, but they would choose to play the Wild against any of those teams. Of course, they would love to play anyone.