HSBC Arena erupted Wednesday night as 18,690 fans rose out of their seats in complete unison, awestruck by Ryan Miller’s phenomenal performance.
Chants of “Ry-an Mil-ler, Ry-an Mil-ler” rang out amongst the electric crowd who had once again witnessed brilliance as their franchise goalie stood on his head right before their very eyes.
The sound that roared through the arena did not, however, have the same aura of a typical chant. Rather it was one that in fact sounded like the series’ proverbial tide had just shifted with one mans’ flick of his glove.
Ryan Miller stood face-to-face with one of the NHL’s most deadly snipers after former Sabre turned enemy, Daniel Briere saw a juicy Paul Gaustad turnover land right onto the blade of his stick. With no one remotely close, Briere stood directly in front of Miller and attempted to lure the Sabres’ goalie out of position. Miller didn’t flinch as the talented forward picked his spot and let his signature wrist-shot ring towards the net. Only this time, Miller reached out his glove and speared the shot taken by his former friend and teammate.
Miller again was perfect in a game with heavy implications, as the former Vezina winner made 32 saves, carrying his team and the Sabres rode the momentum produced by their goalie to a 1-0 victory, knotting the best-of-seven series up at two games apiece heading into Philadelphia for Friday’s Game 5.
Buffalo’s hero was on his toes all night long as Philadelphia forwards continuously produced an array of chances as the Sabres couldn’t seem to compete with the Flyers’ heavy fore-check. Miller was challenged constantly and proceeded to turn them away time after time.
A Jason Pominville chance led to a Philly rush down the other end in which Flyers’ captain Mike Richards would have found the back of the net had it not been for a diving Miller bringing his stick-blade to the goal line and covering up, raising the crowd to their feet for the second time as the Miller chants grew louder.
The scrums that erupted throughout the game were encouraging as well displaying some necessary grit. Led by Tyler Myers’ best game in a long time, the Sabres took it to Philly, out-bullying the Broad Street Bullies themselves.
It seemed as though this performance by Miller was his way of flipping the middle-finger to all fans and media who subjected him to heavy criticism following two consecutive loses.
After the game, Miller backed up his play with a little talk of his own saying “I don’t need to listen to all of the BS that’s out there from people who don’t know how to play goalie. I really don’t give an expletive.”
“Miller was too soft” they said, questioning his focus and ability to lead the Sabres drive to a first-round playoff series victory. Some questioned why Miller hadn’t been yanked in favor of rookie goalie Jhonas Enroth who filled in nicely for Miller late in the season — an absolutely absurd statement.
Well, his play last night should all but quiet those comments, showing just how ill-advised they actually were. In this series against Philadelphia, Miller’s numbers look like this: 2.02 GAA .937 SV% 2 SO. Not bad for guy who “should be sitting the bench”.
In fact, this series would be lost without Miller and there is not much doubt that without him the Sabres may have been swept right out of the playoffs last night as teammates haven’t provided much help by way of constant turnovers and poor offensive play.
Buffalo must find a way to get around Philly’s defense, especially on the power-play and create more offensive chances. You simply just cannot depend on a lights-out performance by Miller every single night — while after last night, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he shows up in such a fashion the rest of the series.
A Friday night win for the team is crucial moving forward. A win makes it 3-2 Buffalo heading into what is sure to be a crazy contest on Easter Sunday while a loss makes that very game an obvious must-win. If they can pull it off, the Sabres will find themselves back in Philly for Game 7, a rough draw in front of those raucous Flyers fans.