All the protection saved him from serious injury and stopped the shots that could’ve given the New York Islanders a big win on home ice.
“If anyone’s gotten punched in the face, that’s kind of how it feels,” Miller said of his first-period face saves in the Sabres’ 3-2 victory Monday night in Game 3 of the first-round playoff series. “It’s something you shake off.
“I feel good. I got on the ice today like any other day.”
But this day was different for the Presidents’ Trophy winners. They turned aside the Islanders in a hostile environment – one that featured thrown bottles and towels after a late penalty call – and took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series that continues Wednesday on Long Island.
After splitting two in Buffalo, the Sabres felt the pressure during the first road game of what they hope will culminate with their first Stanley Cup title. They still feel the heat, but some has shifted to the Islanders, who can’t realistically hope to pull off the upset if they fall behind 3-1.
“It’s a must win for us to change momentum and go back into Buffalo,” Islanders defenceman Brendan Witt said. “They are going to be keyed up to try to get the win.”
If the Sabres do, they will have a chance to advance to the second round Friday. Should New York steal another win as in Game 2, the pressure will shift back to top-seeded Buffalo.
A year ago, the Sabres got within one win of the Stanley Cup final before falling to eventual champion Carolina. As the No. 4 seed they knocked Philadelphia out in six games during the first round before vanquishing the Senators in five.
They had reason to believe they would just roll over the Islanders, who needed to win on the final day of the season just to get into the 16-team tournament.
“They have a really good team,” Miller said. “They deserved to make the playoffs and they proved it by beating us in our building with a very sound effort. We just want to come in here and play our game.”
A big part of that is shutting down the Islanders’ power play. The unit has connected once in 11 chances, and the one goal was the difference in New York’s 3-2 victory Saturday.
Islanders captain Alexei Yashin, who played a team-low seven minutes in that win, was given 10:07 of ice time Monday. Six of those minutes came during the Islanders’ four futile power plays.
After the Islanders closed within 3-2 on Ryan Smyth’s goal with eight seconds left in the middle period, they had a chance to tie in the opening minute of the third when Daniel Briere went off for interference on goalie Rick DiPietro.
But New York did little to press for the tying goal during the advantage or throughout the final frame when the Sabres outshot the Islanders 17-2.
“We have to have some people making some plays for us, and Yashin is one of those guys when he gets out there,” coach Ted Nolan said. “Anytime you’re unsuccessful, you’re unhappy with a lot of things.
“He did what he could do.”
But Smyth, who led Edmonton to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final last year, wants to see more from everyone.
“We can’t take any negative baggage into (Wednesday) night’s game,” the trade-deadline acquisition said. “Everybody’s got to do their part.
“There is always room for improvement. I could play better, everyone else can step up and be a part of it. It’s just knowing that we’re not satisfied with a loss.”
While the Islanders complained about the officiating, specifically a disputed goal that gave Buffalo a 2-0 lead following a lengthy video review and a tripping call against Randy Robitaille with 1:34 left, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said there were many other things the referees let slide on both sides.
“There was some embellishing on some of the plays,” Ruff said of the Islanders, calling out DiPietro on Briere’s interference penalty.
But Nolan countered. He has grown weary of hearing how overmatched his team is even though he admitted the Islanders had tired while chasing the speedy Sabres.
“If everybody keeps telling us how talented they are, and how good they are and how we’re supposed to just go over and over it, that gets old,” Nolan said. “We have a good group of guys here, we’ve got a proud group of guys.
“We just have to find our game, and if we play that way we’ll have something to be happy with.
“The results will take care of itself.”