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Are the 2020 Canucks doomed to meet the same fate as the West Coast Express?

Scary parallels loom between the ‘03 series and the upcoming best-of-five match-up.

Teammates congratulate Bertuzzi
Todd Bertuzzi #44 of the Vancouver Canucks is congratulated by teammates Markus Naslund #19 and Trent Klatt #26 after scoring against the Minnesota Wild during game seven in the 2002 Western Conference semifinals of the Stanley Cup playoffs at General Motors Place on May 8, 2003 in Vancouver, Canada. Minnesota defeated Vancouver 4-2 to win the series 4-3.
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images/NHLI

Editor’s Note: Since the NHL is allowed expanded rosters for the play-in, we thought we’d follow suit by expanding our roster as well. Please welcome Nolan Jensen to the Nucks Misconduct team.

In NHL history, only 29 teams have overcome the daunting task of reversing a 3-1 series deficit to move onto the next series. The Minnesota Wild did it twice, ​consecutively​, in the 2003 NHL Playoffs.

I was cool when they did it to the Colorado Avalanche in the opening round, but an encore performance against Vancouver was worse than a kick to the groin.

The Canucks’ “West Coast Express” line, a fantastic nickname handed to Vancouver’s top line of Brendan Morrison, Markus Naslund, and Todd Bertuzzi, was derailed by an expansion team not even three full years into their existence.

It might be 17 years later—multiple eras have come and gone for both respective franchises—but the point still stands: It’s time for vengeance.

“We could’ve beat Anaheim, and then either Ottawa or New Jersey was waiting for us, and that seemed super doable at the time...and damn you, Marian Gaborik!” — the ballad of a Canucks fan.

In an entirely cruel sense of irony, the Wild were not the only Western Conference squad to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in that opening round. The Canucks did too, after capturing just one victory in their first four games against the Blues, Vancouver turned things around. They won the final three games of the series, and it felt like a long playoff run was in order.

The Detroit Red Wings were taken care of and as mentioned, the Avalanche blew a 3-1 series lead in the opening round. The two evergreen threats out west were no more.

If the Canucks could close out the pesky Wild, a shot at Lord Stanley felt as if it was in the realm of possibility. After all, the seventh-seeded Mighty Ducks, back when an adjective preceded their team name, awaited them in the Conference Final.

A Canucks, Wild heartbreak ballad

I was seven-years-old at the time; my bedroom wall filled with posters of the Canucks until wall space real estate ceased to exist. I, rather unfortunately, had my first taste of NHL heartbreak a year prior, when the eighth-seeded Nucks took a 2-0 series lead against the eventual champion Detroit Red Wings before literally everything went wrong.

It couldn’t happen again, right? Surely not. At least that’s what I told myself, whilst simultaneously staring into the soul of my Dan Cloutier bobblehead—quite timidly I might add—with memories of Nicklas Lidstrom putting a shot on net just beyond center ice still very much so haunting my thoughts.

This Vancouver team was a year older, a year more mature. They took another step in the right direction after a surprising playoff berth a year prior.

But then it all unraveled. Premature thoughts of a Cup run were abruptly ruined by the exploits of Marian Gaborik, Wes Waltz, Dwayne Roloson, and Jacques Lemaire’s incredibly infuriating trap schemes that clogged the neutral zone.

Walz scores on Cloutier
Wes Walz #37 of the Minnesota Wild fires the puck past Dan Cloutier #39 of the Vancouver Canucks during game seven in the 2002 Western Conference semifinals of the Stanley Cup playoffs at General Motors Place on May 8, 2003 in Vancouver, Canada. Minnesota defeated Vancouver 4-2 to win the series 4-3.
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images/NHLI

Parallels between Canucks, Wild ‘03 and ‘20

So, here we are, all those years later, and once more the Canucks are going to be forced to deal with a maddening Wild squad that refuses to stay down for the ten-count. Is history doomed to repeat itself?

Vancouver enjoyed tremendous top-six forward production this year, another impressive campaign by their No.1 netminder, Jacob Markstrom, and the thrilling in-game theatrics of rookie Quinn Hughes—a finalist to take home the Calder Memorial Trophy.

The team was on pace for 93 points before the season was put on hold, their best showing since the 2014-15 NHL season when they recorded 101 points. They had the league’s fourth-best power play, quarterbacked by Hughes who finished fourth among defenceman with 25 power-play points, and a not terrible, not great, relatively average penalty kill that ranked 16th league-wide.

Fun fact: The Wild finished 25th in the NHL with a penalty kill percentage of 77.2 percent. If they dare to play undisciplined hockey, the special teams’ numbers indicate a distinct advantage for Vancouver.

Though the Canucks boast tremendous firepower, again much like in 2003, the veteran experience of the Minnesota Wild could potentially prove too much for the young Canucks.

Again, much li—ok enough of reliving these moments of sorrow. It’s never fun to admit your team may have weaknesses, but an upset could be in order if Vancouver doesn’t show malleability as the series progresses.

As mentioned, a roster spearheaded by the likes of Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, and Zach Parise doesn’t exactly resemble a fountain of youth, but they also have some young guys that have shown upside. Their roster has a very interesting dynamic; one that could potentially prove lethal if not kept in check.

This is a Minnesota team that can score in bunches, as evidenced by their final eight games where they scored an average of 4.25 goals per game (finished 12th in the NHL in goals for per game). The Canucks finished 21st in the league in goals-against per game (3.10), and have this terrible habit of relying on Markstrom to do his best mid-90s Dominik Hasek impression to bail them out for a lack of defensive intensity.

Despite their flaws, this Canucks team needs to do it for the fan base, so we can finally end those nightmares of the 2003 Wild team that swiftly dashed the playoff hopes of the West Coast Express Era.