Miller Steals Game Two
Monday, 05.08.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
"I was just trying to keep myself level all night," said Miller referring to the pressures of playoff hockey. "I was really trying to focus on not getting too emotionally caught up in the peaks and valleys of the game because intensity changes sides so many times with hits, scoring chances and deflections coming close to going in."
But with the game on the line and the spotlight burning, Miller couldn't have shined any brighter. Of his 43 saves in the game, the coup de grace came with less than four minutes remaining in regulation when the rookie netminder stuffed the ultra-talented Jason Spezza on a breakaway. In the one-on-one, Miller corralled Spezza's wristshot with a kick of his right heal while flat on his stomach and held Buffalo's slim 2-1 lead.
"I knew it hit me in the leg but I didn't think I got lucky enough to keep it out," said Miller referring to the save. "I was waiting on him to shoot glove with the pressure coming, he created some space with a move and I got lucky."
"We had a big breakdown (defensively) on the Spezza opportunity but Ryan stood tall for us," said Lindy Ruff. "We knew we were going to see their best tonight and got in a pretty good roll (in the first period). Unfortunately, we got in some penalty trouble and they generated some amount of momentum off those power plays. It was a night where we just had to survive."
Miller's performance made a huge statement as to the goaltender's fortitude in post-season action and showed once again that he can bounce back from a difficult performance. Midway through the Sabres opening series against Philadelphia, Miller answered criticism for a pair of weak goals in Games Three and Four with a shutout in Game Five. In Game Two against Ottawa, Miller again rebounded in dramatic fashion after allowing six goals in Game One.
"I just have to forgive myself and move forward," said Miller referring to his ability to get past a poor outing. "It's something that I've been trying to put together the entire season."
The Sabres defense, which struggled in the first game of the series, did an excellent job of clearing space in front and held Ottawa's offensive attack mostly to the perimeter, especially in the final minutes of regulation.
"We kept a lot of stuff to the outside and initially I could read it," said Miller. "When they did get inside, I just got in the way."
"I was impressed with the way the team hung in there," Ruff said. "It would have been an easy game to run away from, but our guys just kept coming and competing. It was a night where we needed a lot from a lot of guys."
After winning Game One of the best-of-seven series in overtime, the Sabres and its red-hot goaltender took a two games to none lead and positioned themselves only two wins away from the Eastern Conference Finals.
Buffalo will be hoping that history repeats itself through the remainder of the series, as the Sabres have lost just one series in franchise history after taking a two games to none lead in any series, have defeated Ottawa both times the teams have met in the post season and have won the last eight post-season games against the Senators dating back to the 1997 playoffs.
"We still need to adjust a little better," Miller said. "We can still establish our game in their zone, but we've got to make a few adjustments and be ready for a really tough series in our rink."
Pushed to the background by Miller's performance was the Sabres penalty kill unit. Facing the top-ranked power-play unit during the playoffs, Buffalo's man-down squads held Ottawa scoreless in seven opportunities.
"We kept them pushed and when they wanted to tee up for the one-timers, we kept them further away than what they wanted," said Miller. "When they wanted to come inside, they couldn't get the backdoor looks that they like to do. The guys did a great job of getting in the shooting lanes as well."
Buffalo continues to be the team that pounces first, scoring on the team's first two of their four shots of goal during the second period to take a 2-0 lead six minutes in.
On a two-on-one rush, JP Dumont and Daniel Briere twisted Zdeno Chara with a give-and-go. After feeding Briere along the right boards, Dumont redirected the center's return feed past Ray Emery for his fifth goal of the playoffs at 3:33, extending the Sabres streak of scoring first to eight games.
"I said before Game One that our execution was going to have to be good," said Ruff. "When we get those good opportunities, we're going to have to finish."
Jochen Hecht, who was appearing in his first game since sustaining an upper-body injury in Game Three against Philadelphia, gave Buffalo a two-goal lead after stripping Chris Phillips at Ottawa's blueline and charging Emery on a breakaway. After faking towards the right post, Hecht shoveled the puck between the netminder's legs for his first goal of the post season at the 6:00 mark.
Phillips answered for Ottawa, beating Miller with a wristshot from the right point that deflected off Mike Grier at 7:40 to make the scoreboard read 2-1.
"It kind of brushed Grier's leg and caught me between save skills," Miller said. "I'll throw that one out the window. I just want to get rid of it and move past it. I was happier with how I recovered from a goal against that I probably should have had than anything."
The victory didn't come without a huge cost. Just 21 seconds into his first shift of the game, Tim Connolly was leveled by Peter Schaefer while cutting through the neutral zone. Connolly's head was down and the center took the direct blow from Schaefer's elbow directly on his visor. After several minutes on the ice, Connolly was assisted to the locker room, did not return and has been diagnosed with an upper-body injury. However during his post-game press conference, Ruff seemed optimistic and stated that the Syracuse, New York native "feels pretty good right now."
"Timmy walked right into that one," Ruff said. "That was about as good a setup as you can get and it's a tough hit to take."
Connolly had been the most potent Sabre during the post season coming into the game, recording five goals and six assists in seven games. The hit was even more scary because of who its recipient was. Connolly missed the entire 2003-04 season due to post-concussion syndrome, following concussion sustained in preseason game against Chicago in Rochester on October 2, 2003.
Buffalo will return home to HSBC Arena for Game Three on Wednesday night.
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Quotes courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio partner of the Buffalo Sabres.