Markstrom makes a case for more playing time in Vancouver

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Even before the season began, Canucks general manager Jim Benning declared Ryan Miller — his first significant free agent signing when he took over in Vancouver — as the No. 1 goalie.

Jacob Markstrom was put back into the back-up role, and would need to earn the starter status through his play rather than having it bestowed on him because of his age and development since joining the Canucks in the Roberto Luongo trade.

Even before the season began, it was known the Canucks would need both Miller and Markstrom to be exceptional if they were to have any chance of playoff hockey. Winning is the mandate, at least publicly, in Vancouver and great goaltending was a necessity in order for this to happen.

On occasion, yes, the Canucks have received strong goaltending. Other times, not so much.

They received the former on Saturday against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.

Markstrom had arguably his best game of the season, turning aside 42 of 44 shots, including a number of difficult opportunities, as the Canucks ended a tumultuous 2016 with a 3-2 shootout win.

Bo Horvat had another big game for the Canucks, but the play of Markstrom was a huge reason they earned the win.

Markstrom has pieced together some strong starts in December, and his overall save percentage (.913) is four points better than Miller, albeit in four fewer starts and one fewer game played.

The discussion of who the Canucks No. 1 goalie is right now is one the organization may want to circle back to at some point here. Has Markstrom done enough, particularly in December, to warrant more work in the new year?

There’s also the longer-term future to consider.

Markstrom, who signed a contract extension last summer, turns 27 years old this month, while Miller is 36 and will celebrate his 37th birthday in July. The latter is also in the final year of his contract and a pending unrestricted free agent with a $6 million cap hit, and there has been discussion about his future, including any possibility of a return next season to Vancouver.

Despite a three-game winning streak, the Canucks are not in a playoff position, sitting three points out of the Wild Card with three teams in front of them for that final spot.

“Our goaltending’s been good all year,” said coach Willie Desjardins. “And that’s one thing we feel good about. We feel either guy can go and we’ll have a good chance to win.”