Miller is a healthy sign in Sabres win

Sabres goalie Ryan Miller makes one of his 35 saves during his 1-0 shutout of the Flyers.
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller makes one of his 35 saves during his 1-0 shutout of the Flyers.
Posted: April 15, 2011

FLYERS SPARKPLUG Danny Briere, a former Sabre, this week called Ryan Miller the league's best goalie.

Peter Laviolette, Briere's coach, made sure to note that Miller wasn't the league's only good goalie.

Last night, Briere's analysis looked more accurate than his boss'.

Miller, by far the brightest star on a team without many, logged his second shutout in 41 playoff games. He stopped all 35 Flyers shots in Buffalo's 1-0 win in the first game of the teams' Eastern Conference quarterfinal.

"Their goaltender played well tonight," allowed Laviolette.

"Miller made some great saves," offered Briere, himself denied by Miller three times.

"Yeah, that wasn't a bad game for 'Millsy' tonight," said Sabres defenseman Chris Butler, wryly. "When he's focused, when he's healthy, he's great."

Miller was focused and healthy earning a silver medal and the tournament MVP at the Winter Olympics last year. He was focused and healthy as he won the Vezina Trophy in his All-Star campaign of 2009-2010.

Last night, Miller endured a suffocating second period that included a five-on-three kill and a point-blank shot from Flyers assassin Jeff Carter.

"He was locked in," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff.

Ruff was not certain Miller would be sharp, or just rusty.

As this season waned, Miller missed four games with an upper-body injury. He then played only parts of the last two games simply to resharpen his skills.

It worked.

"I told myself, no matter what happened out there, I was going to stay contained and cool," Miller said, dead-eyed.

He didn't seem cool or contained when Flyers captain Mike Richards took a shot at Mike Weber in Miller's crease 4 minutes into the game. After Weber retaliated, Miller, 6-2 and Ichabod-slim at 175 pounds, took a swipe at Richards himself.

"I think it did" set a tone, Ruff said. "We said we were not going to allow them near our paint."

And so, Miller's job was easier. He trusted his defense to cover his back side. He saw his teammates clear his rebounds.

"There weren't that many high-quality saves from either goaltender," Ruff observed.

Well, there were some.

Thanks in part to two Sabres penalties that led to a 38-second, two-man advantage, the Flyers outshot the Sabres, 12-4, in the first 12 minutes of the second period. Miller absorbed an unscreened blast from Kimmo Timonen from the point during the five-on-three. He then stopped a straight-on snapper from Timonen during the subsequent five-on-four, then rejected Ville Leino on the doorstep with his left leg pad twice as the power play expired.

"They wanted that [Timonen] shot but they didn't get the screen they wanted," Miller explained.

Then, Miller got better.

He stoned Carter from just outside the crease with 45 seconds left in the second then tracked James van Riemsdyk's deflected wrist shot with 33 seconds to play in the period, his 26th save of the night, the third of six he would make against van Riemsdyk.

The Carter save came after a van Riemsdyk pass, and it was the one that resounded afterward.

"[Van Riemsdyk] didn't look like he was going to come to the net that time," Miller said, so he cheated a bit toward Carter.

Miller needed to make just a few more big saves. Matt Carle tested him from the point midway through the third but Carle could not get his stick to the ice in the crease moments later as the puck slid through. The Flyers' next two scoring chances were blocked before they got to Miller.

"We've been doing a great job of that the past few months," Miller said.

Not coincidentally, since the first of the year the Sabres have been the hottest team in the East, surging from 13 points out of the playoff race into the second seed.

"We've played 40 of these [types of] games," Ruff said.

They have gotten points from most of them, often from unlikely sources. Witness last night.

Patrick Kaleta, in his second game back after missing 11 with a knee injury, fought through Flyers defenseman Danny Syvret and punched the juicy rebound from Marc-Andre Gragnani's blast past Sergei Bobrovsky with 14:04 to play.

Gragnani was the best defenseman in the AHL this year but, recalled March 28, he had played in just nine games with the Sabres this season and had logged just two assists. Ruff called his play last night "excellent."

Kaleta, a role player who, according to Ruff, was a game-day decision independent of his injury issue, scored four times in his 51 games this season.

This was not the first line of attack.

"I wanted to go out there and give a positive contribution," Kaleta said.

So did Miller.

His contribution was a bit more predictable. Just ask Briere.

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