Having led Buffalo back to the
playoffs for the first time in three years, the Sabres goaltender
politely apologized for being in no mood to assess what he’s
accomplished this season. Winning an Olympic silver medal and a
franchise-record 41 games take a back seat for Miller as he turns his
attention toward Thursday, when Buffalo opens the NHL playoffs hosting
Northeast Division rival Boston.
“I’m not going to sit here and
reflect. Sorry,” Miller said this week. “To start reminiscing now, it’s
going to make for a short postseason. I don’t want to do it.”
Miller’s reluctance is another
indication of the keen-eyed focus that has allowed him to emerge as an
elite goaltender this season. He’s become the unquestioned leader of a
still young Sabres roster that’s proven its finally matured since the
summer of 2007, when the team lost co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel
Briere to free agency.
Drury and Briere were the key
components on the Buffalo teams that reached the Eastern Conference
finals in 2006 and ’07. This time around, it’s in Miller the Sabres
“Not to analyze the whole thing, I
feel when Ryan’s playing his best, we’re a very tough team to beat,”
captain Craig Rivet said. “I don’t think I really need to elaborate much
more than that.”
Miller’s numbers have spoken for
themselves at the NHL and international level.
In being honored as the Olympic men’s
hockey tournament MVP, the U.S. player went 5-1 at the Vancouver Games
in February, losing the gold-medal game to Canada on Sidney Crosby‘s
In helping Buffalo win the Northeast
title, Miller went 41-18-8 to surpass by one the single-season record he
set for victories in 2007. Already mentioned as both a Vezina Trophy
and NHL MVP candidate, Miller finished second in the league in
goals-against average (2.22) and save percentage (92.9).
The only one to better Miller’s
numbers just happens to be the goalie the Sabres will be facing,
Boston’s Tuukka Rask – though the rookie appeared in 24 fewer games than
Games played aside, the rookie’s
emergence in supplanting Tim Thomas as the Bruins starter is the reason
Boston reached the playoffs for a third straight season. Rask went
22-12-5 overall, and keyed the Bruins late playoff surge by going 4-1-1
in his final six starts.
A year after winning the Eastern
Conference regular-season title, the sixth-seeded Bruins enter the
playoffs a much different team. They’ve adopted a defensive-minded
approach after losing star forward Marc Savard to a season-ending
concussion on March 7.
“We had some ups and downs, but I
thought it made us stronger and we found a way to get to the playoffs,”
Patrice Bergeron said. “We believe in ourselves. Even though some people
were counting us out, I don’t think we were. And that’s all that
The Bruins had the edge on Buffalo,
winning the season series 4-2, including an overtime and shootout win.
All six games were close, with four decided by a goal and the other two
decided by two goals.
“We’ve had success against them this
year, that doesn’t mean we’re the favorites,” Bruins coach Claude Julien
The Bruins are hampered by injuries.
Aside from Savard, they’re minus defensemen Dennis Seidenberg (forearm)
and Mark Stuart (pinkie).
Savard’s absence hampers a Bruins
attack that’s lacked offense this season. Boston finished 29th in the
NHL in scoring this year.
The Sabres are getting healthier.
Leading goal-scorer Thomas Vanek returned last weekend after missing six
games with a groin injury. Top-line center Tim Connolly is set to
return after missing the final nine games with a foot injury.
Buffalo’s offense features a balanced
attack. Led by Derek Roy‘s 69 points (26 goals, 43 assists), the Sabres
were one of only three teams to have 12 players with 10 or more goals
What counts more is having a
difference maker in Miller, who showed no signs of fatigue by going
11-4-1 following the Olympic break.
“He can steal a game on his own,”
forward Jason Pominville said. “What he did with the American team can
only put a smile on our faces and say, ‘Wow, hopefully, he can lead us
the way he led that team.'”