The praise heaped on Ryan Miller by his teammates and coaches isn’t anything new.
The Buffalo Sabres goaltender turned aside 36 shots Tuesday night and was named the first star of the game as the Sabres pulled out a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at First Niagara Center.
In Buffalo’s first game back from the Olympic break, they didn’t come out as strong as they would have liked, but received the goaltending necessary to keep the contest close.
Christian Ehrhoff scored twice, including the game winner with 43.4 seconds left in regulation, but acknowledged that, like in so many other games this year, Miller was the difference.
“It had to do a lot with [Miller] again,” Ehrhoff said. “He made some huge saves for us. He was very sharp. He was our best player again tonight.”
Ehrhoff now has seven points (3+4) in his past seven games.
Drew Stafford had two assists and he now has 11 points (6+5) in his past eight games and Tyler Ennis scored to extend his point streak to three games. He also has seven points (2+5) in his past seven games.
However, Ennis said it all comes back to goaltending.
“I think [Miller] was 99 percent of that win,” he said. “We’ve got to tip our hat to the guys that competed. We battled and got the win, but [Miller] pretty much got us that one.”
Eric Staal and Alexander Semin tallied for the Hurricanes. Cam Ward stopped 15 of the 18 shots he faced.
Miller also played a big role in helping his own cause by picking up two assists. The assists were the eighth and ninth of Miller's career. His last came on March 20, 2011 against Nashville.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, he became the first NHL goaltender to record two helpers in a game since Cory Schneider on Dec. 11, 2010. Miller is the first Sabres goaltender to accomplish this feat since Daren Puppa, who did it on Jan. 14, 1991 against Toronto.
Miller had to think way back as to when the last time he may have had two assists in a game.
“I played forward for a little while when I was a kid,” he joked.
The big twist this time around in Miller’s performance was that he was also able to overcome a nine-hour time zone change.
Miller represented Team USA in the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia and didn’t return to Buffalo until Monday afternoon. He went through the morning skate on Tuesday and said he tried to take it easy. He didn’t focus as much on stopping pucks in practice as he did making sure he kept his feet moving to avoid cramping up after such a long flight home.
“It’s good to be back. I am a little bit goofy and feeling I’m feeling a little weird, but that’s to be expected with the jet lag,” he said after the game. “I just tried to treat it like the games you play when you’re feeling a little bit sick. Just keep it simple, try not to focus too hard, just keep it loose and just compete and go from there. It’s good to win. It feels good.”
All this also comes with the NHL Trade Deadline looming at 3 p.m. on March 5 and Miller’s future with the Sabres uncertain. The 33-year-old goaltender is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and could be playing for a different team any time before then.
Sabres general manager Tim Murray spoke with the media before the game and said that they are exploring the possibility of trading Miller.
“The route we’re looking at is to get value for him, to put him in a position to succeed,” Murray said. “By trading Ryan to a contender – a good team that maybe is lacking only his position – I think that we’ve certainly not done a disservice to him and we’ve helped the organization in our own right. Our goal right now on both sides is to pursue a proper trade.”
Miller said after the game that while he has enjoyed his time in Buffalo and he’s open to staying, a trade might be the option that currently makes the most sense for both parties.
“I don’t want to close anything off right now,” Miller said. “I know they’re kind of looking around for an opportunity and I think that’s probably best for everybody.”
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan knows it’s possible that Miller could be gone any day now.
“It just shows what kind of goaltender we have in Ryan Miller and how important goaltending is,” Nolan said. “I don’t think we had too much reason to say we were the better team tonight outside of Ryan Miller stealing that game for us.”
However, Nolan’s focus also remains on keeping the team as a whole as prepared as possible. If Miller is dealt by the trade deadline, he knows that someone else will have to be ready to fill Miller’s shoes rather quickly. It’s a lesson he learned while coaching Team Latvia in the Olympics.
“With Latvia, I think Team Canada had 57 shots on us,” Nolan said. “Our goaltender did pretty good out of nowhere. Goaltenders come and if that thing happens, we just have to have somebody in there that’s going to stop some pucks for us.”
The Sabres won’t have much time to reflect on this one as they host the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. Ehrhoff said that even though they earned two points against the Hurricanes, they will have to put in a much better effort when the Bruins come to town.
“It wasn’t our best effort. It was sloppy at times and a little rust coming off the break probably,” he said. “We gotta make sure tomorrow we are a lot cleaner on our plays because Boston is a team that waits for turnovers and mistakes.”
Puck drop between Boston and Buffalo is scheduled for 7 p.m.