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The Canucks Are Back In The Playoffs; Why I’m WILD About Their Chances

Photo courtesy of The Athletic

REVISION VERSION: In my excitement to write an article, I ran with the idea of a one-game playoff. It’s a five-game series for the first round, ala ALDS.

I apologize. Read it regardless.

 

The NHL and NHLPA have agreed in principle to returning with a 24-team playoff format when hockey resumes. Sure, they’ve essentially adopted the CFL’s model of allowing almost everyone to be a participant, but if you think about it for a second, this could be the beginning of a re-structured playoff format going forward.

Of course, the Vancouver Canucks would then be assured of a one-game play-in versus their heated rivals, the Minnesota Wild. The “purest” fan in me doesn’t love this idea 100% but really what is the big deal? The NHL did have a five-game first-round series format prior to the first lockout… OK, a little before that.

People will argue that it isn’t the playoffs with this proposed idea and to a degree, they’re correct. That being said, the play-in game is one of the most exciting games of the season, case in point the clip below:

The Toronto Blue Jays required a one-game playoff against the Baltimore Orioles in 2016 and in epic fashion, Edwin Encarnacion blasted a three-run homer to send the Jays to the ALDS. It was appointment viewing, especially in Canada where playoff baseball from the only team in the country had eluded its fans for decades.

Every pitch, every hit, every steal was monumental and played out like a high-stakes chess match. It was as playoffs as the playoffs could be.

Prior to the Wild Card game, there have also been a handful of extra games required to even get to the Wild Card game, dubbed Game 163. If teams with identical records were in the same league, a one-game playoff was required to get to the official one-game playoff. Confusing, right?

Baseball has embraced this format for years and it might be time the NHL reworked its playoff structure. Not too long ago, the WHL had its own one-game playoff between the Kelowna Rockets (you didn’t think I wouldn’t mention them, did you?) and the Kamloops Blazers.

Kelowna really had no business being in that game but they made the trek to Kamloops to face their age-old rivals on a heightened Tuesday night matchup to make it to the WHL Playoffs. Kelowna got spanked but the atmosphere was electric even as a fan in the away barn.

Rewind back to the Canucks.

A one-game playoff against the Minnesota Wild doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing in the world but knowing the stakes are so high, it won’t take long to become must-watch television. After all, no one is going to the game anyway.

What I love about this matchup is the opportunity to exorcise the 2003 demons of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. You remember the ones, don’t you?

Wes Walz, Willie Mitchell, and the great Hnat Domenichelli. That team should have lost to Vancouver but it didn’t. This year, the new Canucks can right the wrongs and if they do they get a first-round matchup against, oh crap, the Colorado Avalanche.

I like Vancouver’s chances against Minnesota in a do or die situation. The Canucks are fully healthy and giving Jacob Markstrom the net makes them scary good. I also think this is the kind of game Brock Boeser could put his name back in contention as a star player against the team he grew up watching.

Speaking of Boeser, he hasn’t been the sniper fans, and I’m sure coaches, have wanted him to be but his 200-foot game has turned him into a more complete player. He’s not exactly being placed in situations where he can properly get off the shot that made him famous but maybe he just needs to find a linemate that can set him up.

Boeser also hasn’t scored a goal since he potted a pair Jan. 11 vs. Buffalo. Concerning, for sure. His power-play deployment is also something I’m not thrilled with as it’s beyond predictable of how he’ll get the puck. Anyway, I’m confident Boeser can get back to his scoring ways and this year’s playoff is a great opportunity.

Vancouver hasn’t faired well against the Wild this season and their 2020 has been all over the map. What is certain is that they’ll be healthy when this all returns much like the team they’re trying to forget about at the turn of this century.

This year’s Canuck roster isn’t a juggernaut compared to 2003, stating the obvious, I’m sure.

It still blows my mind that the Canucks never won that ’03 series considering they had one heck of a team and the hottest duo in the league in Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi. They had THE Gatorade spokesman on their team and couldn’t muster one more win. In case you forgot, here’s what I’m talking about:

I am really not a fan of team sports like hockey returning during this point of the pandemic but at the same time, I can’t wait to see my favourite sport return. There are a lot of hoops the NHL will have to jump through to make their official return happen but after watching the UFC on Saturday night, I think it’s possible.

With the NHL bringing in this modified playoff format this year to make it fair to all the teams in the hunt, every one-game playoff will have as much intensity as the regular series themselves. Hockey is ready for a change and this might be the time to alter the game yet again.

They removed the red line, added trapezoids, introduced no-touch icing, and brought in coach’s challenges; the NHL is far from its origins but at the heart of it all, the game is the same.

24 teams with a chance for the Cup? Why not?

The Canucks may have a chance at Lord Stanley this season when only two months ago we were all concerned they would just miss out.

I’ll be here when it returns and I know you will too!

 

Check out the rest of my work over at Canucks Army and my vocal cords as a member of the PP1 Podcast