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I Watched This Game: Miller tallies five assists, Podkolzin and Chiasson score two goals apiece in dominant Canucks win

The Canucks are on a five-game winning streak and improbably still in the playoff conversation.
The Vancouver Canucks crushed the Arizona Coyotes 7-1 on Thursday night. J.T. Miller had 5 assists, while Vasily Podkolzin and Alex Chiasson scored 2 goals each.

With seven games left in the season, the Vancouver Canucks are four points out of a playoff spot with a game in hand.

This would have seemed impossible four months ago, when the Canucks were mired in an 8-15-2 start, with fans booing the team off the ice and chanting for both the general manager and the head coach to be fired.

Honestly, it would have seemed impossible three weeks ago, when the Canucks dropped winnable games against the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres, seemingly sealing their fate for the season. Those losses capped off a 2-3-2 homestand and the Canucks muddled through the rest of March, managing big wins against the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars but losing back-to-back games against the St. Louis Blues. The playoff dream seemed thoroughly snuffed out. 

But after thrashing the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night, the Canucks are on a five-game winning streak that has pulled them back into the playoff mix. 

The Los Angeles Kings have lost four of their last five games and have also lost Drew Doughty for the rest of the season after his wrist surgery. Suddenly, third in the Pacific Division might be up for grabs, with both the Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights pushing to take it.

The Kings sit at 88 points, the Golden Knights are at 87, and the Canucks are at 84. Both the Canucks and the Golden Knights have a game in hand on the Kings. The Golden Knights have the edge on both the Canucks and Kings in the first tiebreaker, regulation wins, but anything can happen over the final games of the season.

Let’s be clear: the odds are still long. The only way for the Canucks to make the playoffs is to pass both the Kings and the Golden Knights and the gap in points — just 3 behind Vegas and 4 behind L.A. — is more significant than it might seem with so few games remaining. 

I also think there are still major issues with how this team is constructed and the long-term picture for the Canucks is filled with obstacles. With few prospects in the pipeline and major salary cap challenges in the coming years, building a better team for the future is going to be difficult.

But man, when this team puts everything together on the ice just right, they are remarkably fun to watch, and their refusal to give up this season has been downright inspiring. On Thursday night, everything was definitely just right.

J.T. Miller had a five-point night, bringing him to 91 points on the season, the highest-scoring season by a Canuck since the Sedins in 2010-11. His 62 assists are the sixth-most in franchise history and there are still seven games to go. 

Vasily Podkolzin came to life with the first multi-goal game of his career. Alex Chiasson continued his late-season hot streak with two goals of his own, giving him 6 goals and 10 points in his last 7 games.

And Elias Pettersson added another goal to his own late-season surge. He now has 9 goals and 15 points in his last 9 games and looks like a near-lock to set a new season-high in points despite his dreadful start.

My one fear is that just as Canucks fans start to hope again, the rug will be cruelly pulled out from under them. Instead of getting too optimistic about the playoffs, it’s probably best to just enjoy the games as they come, like I did when I watched this game.

  • I will note that the Coyotes are truly terrible — easily the worst team in the NHL right now — and two of the Canucks’ five wins on this streak have come against them. The Coyotes have been out-scored 29-to-6 on their current five-game losing streak.
  • Even with the Coyotes’ struggles, they out-shot the Canucks 8-to-4 through the first ten minutes. Eventually, it seemed like J.T. Miller got sick and tired of treating the Coyotes with kid gloves. He grabbed a pass from Quinn Hughes, cut into the middle of the ice, and spotted Alex Chiasson, who had slipped loose of his check. Miller’s pass was right on Chiasson’s blade for the tip-in to open the scoring.
  • That was the start of a big night for Miller’s line with Chiasson and Podkolzin, who was screening in front on the opening goal. The line combined for four goals and was all over the Coyotes in puck possession, particularly with Pokdolzin’s relentless forechecking. With Brock Boeser and Tanner Pearson out of the lineup, Chiasson and Podkolzin have stepped up like Channing Tatum.  
  • “We all think the same way — we’re a pretty straightforward line and when we get the puck in the zone, I think we have enough skill that we can score,” said Miller. “All three of us like to go to the net. Podzy is such a good skater that he opens up a lot of ice for us. We have a pretty old-school mentality — we know our roles and know how to play and we’re not going to force things and change our game just because we’re playing different teams.”
  • It was another player stepping up that gave the Canucks a 2-0 lead. Sheldon Dries leads the Abbotsford Canucks in scoring with 35 goals and 62 points in 54 games and, with the Canucks’ injuries, stepped right onto the second power play unit and neatly tipped in a Brad Hunt slap pass for his first goal in the NHL since January 19, 2019. So, it was a big game for both of the Canucks’ leading scorer, both Dries and Miller.
  • “You can tell why he’s close to leading the American League in goals, that was a great tip,” said Bruce Boudreau. “And it was a great shot by Huntsy, who tried to shoot for a tip. Those are plays that win you games.”
  • It may have been a big win but there was also one major loss during the game. Bo Horvat left early in the second period after taking an Anton Stralman shot to the inside of his right ankle. That’s the type of play that can cause a fracture, though Boudreau suggested that Horvat could have returned late in the game but that he didn’t want to risk it with such a “comfortable lead.”
  • Penalty kills typically cheat toward Elias Pettersson on the power play and he gave a perfect demonstration of why on the 3-0 goal. The Coyotes gave Pettersson a little too much room on the right side and he drilled an unstoppable one-timer that, by definition, Karel Vejmelka couldn’t stop. 
  • “His knowledge of the game — he’s one of those kids that really knows hockey,” said Boudreau of what stands out about Pettersson. “He anticipates, it’s like he’s got Spider-sense — stupid analogy but that’s my comic book stuff coming out on me — but he can see where the play’s going and who’s going where. I just find him extremely smart.”
  • The Coyotes did get one goal, a power play marker from Andrew Ladd, finishing off a Phil Kessel rebound, which is your reminder that Phil Kessel and Andrew Ladd play for the Arizona Coyotes.
  • This was a dominant game by the Canucks and the score could easily have been even more lopsided. The Canucks scored three goals in the last five minutes of the second period but had two great chances just before that. Will Lockwood was robbed of his first NHL goal by a great save by Vejmelka and Pettersson rang the post on another one-timer from the top of the right faceoff circle. Someone needs to let the Coyotes know why that spot is nicknamed the PetterZone. Or don’t, so that he keeps scoring from there.
  • Podkolzin kicked off the rout with a power play goal of his own. Hughes knocked down a clearance in the neutral zone, allowing for a quick regroup that caught the Coyotes penalty kill on a partial line change. Podkolzin was coming off the bench himself and made a beeline for the net and Miller made a puckline to Podkolzin, who cut to the backhand and tucked the puck around Vejmelka while diving to the ice.
  • Podkolzin helped create another goal just 14 seconds later. He was all over the Coyotes on the forecheck and stole the puck from Shayne Gostisbehere. He passed off to Conor Garland, who snuck the puck under the glove like he was Mookie Wilson.
  • Garland’s goal led to this amazing goal celebration where Tyler Myers, who is exactly a foot taller than the 5’8” Garland, wrapped him up in a big hug. 
  • You can see Garland slightly roll his eyes, as if he knows for a fact that this will lead to gifs. It’s like he’s saying, “Tyler, I love you man, but we talked about this. This is going to be all over the internet.” I’m sorry, Garland. I’m part of the problem. 
  • Shortly after, Podkolzin tallied his third point in four minutes. Podkolzin rung the puck around the boards to Miller, who missed it, but then quickly stole it back from Gostisbehere, who was really having a rough couple of shifts. That created a quick 2-on-1 against Dysin Mayo and it was all-too-easy for Miller to set up Podkolzin for a one-timer goal to make it 6-1.
  • Maybe if Mayo had mustered up a little more piss and vinegar, he wouldn’t have had to play catch up on the goal but it seemed he didn’t relish the challenge. Oh well, it’s all gravy. 
  • The third period was mostly about rolling all four lines and cruising to victory but the Canucks added one more goal for good measure. After a Coyotes power play, Miller and Chiasson broke out 2-on-1. Miller’s pass evaded the stick and the namebar of defenceman Vladislav Kolyachonok and Chiasson drilled a one-timer past Harry Sateri, who had come in to replace Vejmelka.
  • Okay, the third period was also about the hattrick watch for Podkolzin and Chiasson. Podkolzin had a great chance when he picked up a Coyotes turnover in the slot but he sent the puck just wide. Podkolzin allowed himself a tiny moment of looking skyward before he bolted to the bench for a line change.
  • “I have to kick him off [the ice] every day,” said Boudreau of Podkolzin. “And he’s on ten minutes before anybody would even dare to come on. I was really happy for him but I tried to get him that third goal. I told him not to come off the ice in the last three minutes but he came off and I told him to get right back out there.”
  • With 91 points, Miller has now tied Patrik Sundstrom for the 9th highest-scoring season in Canucks history. The only Canucks with more points than Miller in a season are Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Pavel Bure, Alexander Mogilny, Markus Naslund, and Todd Bertuzzi. That’s heady company.
  • “I try to feel like I’m never satisfied,” said J.T. Miller. “I’ve got an amazing opportunity since I’ve been here. I get to play in every situation, which is something I’ve worked for my whole career. But, that being said, it doesn’t really mean shit to me if we don’t play in the playoffs.”