Ryan Miller's Best Still Not Good Enough
Who could blame him?
To the outsider, building a contending hockey team is a snap.
All you need is a great goalie.
Tell that to Miller and the Buffalo Sabres, who saw their season end less than two weeks into the postseason with a 4-3 loss to the Bruins at the TD Garden on Monday.
"This hurts," the goaltender said 20 minutes later in the visiting team locker room. He was already showered and dressed. "As a group, I don't know if we did as well as we could. We have enough guys that know what's going on that should be leading the way. We made some critical errors that proved costly."
As advertised, Miller unquestionably delivered. He has earned the title as the best goaltender in the world. He was one of the USA's crossover stars in leading the Americans to a silver medal at the Olympics in February. He is a nominee for the Vezina Trophy and could be a finalist for the Hart as league MVP. Miller was 41-18-8, second in the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage.
The Sabres just happened to draw Boston and Tuukka Rask, the league leader in the same categories. However, Miller had more wins (41) than Rask had starts (39).
Despite his team losing this series four games to two, Miller did nothing to lose the tag as the best in the game. As often happens with heroic goaltenders on otherwise unspectacular teams, Miller made many of his highlight-reel saves in losses. He was never more spectacular than in the Bruins' double overtime win in Game 4 that turned the series. As goalies and coaches like to say, Miller gave his team a chance to win every game, including on Monday.
"Millsie played the way he did the entire year for us. He was amazing," said Sabres veteran center Adam Mair. "He has an ability to make the big save and lift our team. He did it night after night for us. It's too bad we didn't come through."
The Sabres came up short and, in Game 6, surprisingly soft. Boston came out hard from the drop of the puck, while Buffalo withered. Only a pair of mindless Boston giveaways -- one by Dennis Wideman in the second period, another by Michael Ryder in the third -- kept the Sabres in the game late.
Buffalo finished the series 0-19 on the power play. Derek Roy had only a pair of assists, Tim Connolly just one assist over the six games. Super-pest Patrick Kaleta scored a goal in game 6 and got credit from the hits-happy statisticians, but he didn't get under the skin of anybody on or in Boston. Like many players of his ilk, Kaleta plays a lot tougher at home. Two of Buffalo's best forwards were youngsters Tyler Ennis and 5-foot-6 Nathan Gerbe -- good news for the team's future, not a ringing endorsement of their present. Said coach Lindy Ruff: "We face the disappointment knowing that a couple of our key players had a tough series."
"No excuses," said Sabres wing Mike Grier. "Over a seven-game series, you cannot say the better team did not win. They made the plays we had to make. Our special teams were not good. Millsie is one of the most valuable players in the league because he gives us the confidence every game to go out and play and know he's going to make crucial saves. There was no let-up in his play in this series. He was remarkable."
Rask -- who now becomes one of the top goalies as the playoffs become an eight-team tournament -- played Miller to a draw for the series, matching brilliant save for wondrous stop. The other 18 Bruins out-played the Sabres, most of all in the clincher.
Write off another season for Miller -- who turns 30 in July -- when his team has failed to capitalize on his prime years.
For two weeks, the Bruins played like a team that wanted it a little bit more.
Not even Ryan Miller, the best goaltender in the world, could do anything about it.