VANCOUVER — Even as the Vancouver Canucks get closer to last call, with everyone having fun and no one wanting the season to end, it has never felt more like Miller time.
There was another big round of JT Miller on Thursday when the centre, having already built the most productive season by a Canuck since Daniel and Henrik Sedin were winning National Hockey League scoring titles a decade ago, set up five goals in a 7-1 demolition of the Arizona Coyotes.
The Canucks’ fifth straight win still left them five points out of a wild-card playoff spot with seven games remaining. But it moved Miller to 91 points, tied for seventh in NHL scoring, and 62 assists. In the franchise’s 52 years, only the Sedin twins have set up more goals than Miller in any Vancouver season.
What was especially impressive about Miller’s outburst is that it came on a line with wingers Alex Chiasson and rookie Vasily Podkolzin, who were healthy scratches earlier this season but are getting elevated roles now due to key injuries up front.
Chiasson and Podkolzin each scored twice, finishing with authority on primary assists from Miller as if they were David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand converting passes from Patrice Bergeron.
For context, consider that the four goals Chiasson and Podkolzin amassed were equal to their combined output over nearly all of February and March.
With Miller, they were unstoppable on Thursday. Unfortunately, time may soon stop the Canucks.
Despite their desperate surge, they’re finding it nearly impossible to close the gap in the playoff race because it feels like everyone ahead of them keeps winning.
The Vegas Golden Knights embarrassed the Calgary Flames 6-1 on Thursday. The Nashville Predators were beaten 4-0 by the Edmonton Oilers, but the Dallas Stars still fetched a point with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild.
The Predators and Stars occupy the two wild card spots in the Western Conference, each has a game in-hand on Vancouver and their .601 winning percentages translate to 98-point seasons.
The Canucks would need to win their final seven games — ending the regular season with 12 straight wins — to reach that threshold. It is the only target number Miller cares about.
“I try to feel like I’m never satisfied,” Miller said when asked about eclipsing 90 points. “I’ve gotten 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 sh– to me if we don’t play in the playoffs. It’s great, but I’m not in this for the personal gain.
“Like I tell you guys, when I’m playing well, points come and when that happens, we win more games. I really just want to play in the playoffs because when you score in the playoffs, that’s what really means a lot.”
Vancouver also is four points behind the Los Angeles Kings for the final playoff spot in the Pacific Division, though the Golden Knights also stand three points ahead of Vancouver in that race.
As if the reality of their playoff chase were not sobering enough, Canucks captain Bo Horvat left the game in the second period after blocking a shot with his foot or ankle. Horvat, who 14 goals in his previous 17 games, left Rogers Arena in a walking boot.
Coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters that Horvat could have returned but was given the rest of the night off because the Canucks were well on their way to beating the awful Coyotes, who trailed 2-0 after the first period and 6-1 after the second.
The Canucks do not play again until Monday’s massive home game against the Stars, and it’s possible winger Brock Boeser (elbow) could return after missing the last five games.
The Canucks better hope the Easter break doesn’t give Podkolzin and Chiasson, who has an astonishing five goals and nine points during the winning streak, time to cool.
“I’ve been getting a really good opportunity here to showcase what I can do, and obviously it feels like I’m being able to find my spots on the ice,” Chiasson said. “I think it’s fair to say that (JT) and I get along pretty well. I think we’ve been around for a while. We don’t want to waste this opportunity. So I think it’s just an individual basis of wanting to be better and wanting to help the team. He’s been at the head of the bus the whole year and I’m just trying to help with the injuries and stuff and just do my job.”
The line was put together three games ago when top-six winger Tanner Pearson followed Boeser out of the lineup.
“I thought that our line could have success,” Miller said. “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. A game like today, it’s not going to happen very often. But (we can) at least create momentum and opportunities.
“I’m just passing it to them. They’re the ones putting them in the net.”
Bumped up the lineup due to Horvat’s exit, minor-league callup Sheldon Dries scored his first NHL goal in more than three years. Conor Garland and Elias Pettersson, who led all Canucks with 22:09 of ice time, also scored.
Goalie Thatcher Demko made 21 saves for his 32nd victory of the season. Only four Canuck goalies have won more games in a single campaign. But the team may need another seven wins from him.