BOSTON — Kevan Miller was built for playoff hockey.
The 26-year-old defenseman made his postseason debut for the Boston Bruins on Sunday at TD Garden in their 4-1 victory that evened the first-round series with the Detroit Red Wings at one game apiece.
Miller is a physical blueliner who dishes out monster hits, blocks shots, finishes his checks and kills penalties, so it was no coincidence Boston had more energy and played a heavier game when he returned to the lineup after missing the series opener with a gastrointestinal virus.
“(Miller) stepped up for us huge this year with the absence of some key D-men that we lost throughout the year,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. “And to see him step up like he did (Sunday), and how he’s been playing throughout the year, has been great to see. He’s a physical guy, he’s a real competitor, and you saw that (Sunday), like you said, especially in the first five minutes.”
The Bruins thrive off their physicality, and when they couldn’t establish that energy in Game 1, the Red Wings dominated puck possession and used their superior speed and skating ability to create consistent offensive zone pressure and scoring chances.
Boston made a strong effort to change that in Game 2, and Miller set the tone with his first few shifts, including a huge hit on Detroit forward Drew Miller 1:12 into the first period.
“It was really important for us to come out and get the crowd engaged,” Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said after Game 2. “When you see guys like Miller’s first couple shifts, he’s out there blowing guys up and (David) Krejci is playing the body, that’s when he is at his best in the playoffs. Our whole team — it spreads through our team like fire, and it’s important.”
In addition to his physical play in all three zones Sunday afternoon, Miller tallied four hits (second-most on the B’s), two takeaways and two blocked shots, and spent 1:52 on the penalty kill. His puck-moving ability also helped Boston break out of its own zone quicker, which allowed the team to move through the neutral zone a lot easier than in Game 1.
It was the type of all-around performance that has made the Los Angeles native a key part of the Boston blue line.
“(Miller is) like a football player out there,” Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said after Monday’s practice. “It looks like he’s running on the ice almost, just hitting everybody. He’s a really physical guy, and he’s pretty good with the puck, too.”
Miller’s return to the lineup will help the Bruins maintain the physicality that played a huge factor in Sunday’s win as the series heads to Detroit for Games 3 and 4. He’s not the most experienced or skilled guy in Boston’s defensive corps, but his toughness and energy is contagious.