Miller's play saves Sabres in Game 1
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Ryan Miller was crouched over as he slowly left the ice after the second period Thursday night. The batteries were low.
"I was just a little tired," Miller said afterward with a smile. "I don't usually get that much work in a period."
A 24-shot barrage in 20 minutes of hockey? Yeah, that can be a little tiring. The man who wore the Superman cape at the Winter Olympics for Team USA two months ago signaled right out of the gates that the Buffalo Sabres won't go down easy in these Stanley Cup playoffs.
Completely dominated for an entire period and outshot 24-8, the Sabres actually scored in the period en route to a 2-1 win in the best-of-seven opener against the rival Boston Bruins. Get used to that score.
It was just another reminder why Miller will win the Vezina Trophy this season and is a serious candidate for the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
"When he's at the top of his game, we're a very, very difficult team to play against," said winning-goal scorer and Sabres captain Craig Rivet. "Tonight, Ryan showed that when he's playing well and he's confident, I think you see the confidence that the team plays with."
And it also tells you that when Miller is in his Olympic-like zone, the Sabres don't have to be perfect. They can fall asleep for a period and still survive. That's not an option for all 16 of the teams in these playoffs.
"If we do it right, it's going to be two months of hockey," said Miller, who stopped 38 of 39 shots on the night. "We're not going to have every period go our way. To have one that was a little tense and give up some shots on goal and yet respond and hold the lead in the third period -- that's really positive."
Unless, of course, you're the Bruins, who quite frankly deserved a better fate on this night. They played one heck of a road game, but Thursday was a microcosm of their season. Amazingly, the Bruins finished seventh in the NHL in shots on goal in the regular season, averaging 31.7 shots per game, yet they finished dead last in goals per game (2.39).
That sickening trend continued in Game 1 with that lone goal on 39 shots. The Bruins can't finish, and that's a recipe for disaster when you combine that with the fact the MVP of the Olympic tournament is at the other end of the ice.
"We created quality chances, especially in the second period, but they didn't go in," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "Miller had a strong game, and we can't get frustrated. We know we're facing a good quality goaltender and we just have to keep trying."
So, what then for Boston? Well, it needs to improve the quality of its shots. There was plenty of quantity in the series opener, but not enough from sweet areas and not enough traffic in front of Miller to make it hard on him.
"No doubt, he saw the puck more than we would have liked," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "That's an area we can be better."
On the Sabres' side, the play of the top line, centered by Derek Roy between Thomas Vanek and Tim Kennedy, was a real positive sign. That trio was all over the puck all night along, creating excellent chances and giving the Bruins fits in their own zone. It was a disappointing 28-goal campaign in the regular season for Vanek, and to see him rip home the opening goal just 4:52 into the game on a wicked wrist shot seemed to relax his line.
"It helped right off the bat getting a goal and getting confidence in our line," said Roy, whose gorgeous rush up the ice and drop pass to Vanek made the goal possible. "I thought we skated well and made some plays. Throughout the series, we just have to keep getting better as a line."
Fact is, no matter how many 38-save nights Miller has, the Sabres can't win the Stanley Cup without the Roy-Vanek combo also leading the way. It was a nice debut.
"I thought he played great," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said of Vanek. "He's been great since he came back. We need him. We need him to score. It was a real good display by Thomas."
Vanek missed six games late in the season with a groin injury before returning this past Saturday with a four-goal outburst in Ottawa. Has the Vanek of old returned just in time for the playoffs? What a bonus that would be for Buffalo.
"I just feel good in general," Vanek said. "I got injured late in the year and got two weeks off to rehab. I just feel good right now."
Another impressive part of the Austrian's game was his response to the matchup against Chara. The towering Bruins blueliner imposed himself physically on Vanek, but the Sabres winger didn't back down. Buffalo needs that kind of fight from Vanek, and he wasn't alone in his physical response. The Bruins tried to bully the Sabres early and often, and it didn't work. This series took no time to get heated.
"That was high intensity," Ruff said.
"It's playoff hockey," Julien said.
In the end, Thursday night was exactly as billed: Miller was outstanding; his counterpart Tuukka Rask was pretty good, too; and the Bruins and Sabres slugged it out, Adams Division style.
In an opening 48 hours full of surprises around the Stanley Cup playoffs, there were none at HSBC Arena in Buffalo.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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