Ryan Miller was the Buffalo Sabres’ difference maker all regular-season long. Turns out his role hasn’t changed in the playoffs.
Miller was remarkable in making 38 saves – including 23 in the second period – in the Sabres’ 2-1 playoff-opening victory over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night
“When he’s at the top of his game, we’re a very, very difficult team to play against,” captain Craig Rivet said. “Tonight, Ryan showed when he’s playing well and he’s confident, I think you see the confidence you see the team plays with.”
That confidence was apparent in Rivet’s performance.
After Miller helped the Sabres weather the Bruins offensive storm for most of the second period, Rivet regained the momentum by scoring on a slap shot from the right circle to break a 1-1 tie with under six minutes left.
“I haven’t scored a lot of goals,” said the veteran defenceman who scored only his fourth goal in his 64th playoff game. “When you have a chance to chip in and help your team, it feels real good.”
Thomas Vanek also scored for the Northeast Division champion Sabres, making their first playoff appearance in three years.
Game 2 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference quarter-final is Saturday in Buffalo.
Mark Recchi scored for the Bruins, while Tuukka Rask was solid in making 30 saves.
The tight margin of victory was no surprise in a game between two division rivals, and two goalies that finished the regular season first and second in goals against and save percentage.
The difference was the second period, in which the Bruins out-shot the Sabres 24-8, but found themselves trailing 2-1.
“That happens. But there’s too many positive to worry about that right now,” Recchi said. “We’re upset we lost, but there’s too many good things that happened.”
It was a game of shifting momentum, with the Sabres controlling the tempo and buzzing the net through most of the first period. Buffalo was rewarded by opening the scoring 4:52 in when Vanek snapped in Roy’s drop pass on a 2-on-1 rush.
The Bruins responded in opening the second period getting five of the first six shots on net. It wasn’t until 9:30 in, when Recchi finally beat Miller with a power-play goal by converting a rebound from the slot.
Rivet’s goal snuffed the Bruins momentum in what began as an innocent rush by rookie Tim Kennedy. Gaining the Bruins blue-line, Kennedy attracted two Boston defenders before he fed the puck to a wide-open Rivet in the right circle. With teammate Patrick Kaleta providing a screen, Rivet blasted a shot in the top far corner.
“Whether you lose 10-1 or 2-1, it’s a loss,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “We played hard enough, we played well enough, but only one team’s going to come out with a win. They did tonight.”
Credit Miller, who continued to build a splendid year in which he won a franchise-best 41 games and backstopped the United States to a silver medal at the Vancouver Games.
Miller robbed Patrice Bergeron’s attempt to snap in a rebound from the slot early in the second period. That stop led the sellout crowd to start its familiar “USA! USA!” chant. Miller also held his ground to foil Marco Sturm’s hot shot from the left circle later in the frame.
The Sabres regained their composure in the third period by allowing only six shots. Miller was tested once, stopping David Krejci’s initial shot off a partial breakaway, and then preventing the centre from shoving in the rebound.
All in a day’s work for Miller, who admitted to being a little tired after the second period.
“We’re not going to have every period go our way,” Miller said. “But to respond and get a goal back and then hold the lead in the third period, it’s really positive.”
The game turned chippy 15 minutes in after Bruins captain Zdeno Chara cross-checked Kaleta from behind and into the board behind the Boston net. That started a series of scuffles involving all 10 skaters, with several punches being thrown.
Chara was issued a double-minor penalty for boarding and roughing, but inexplicably left the penalty box after serving only 2 minutes. Officials didn’t notice until there was a minute left, when Chara was sent back to the box.
NOTES: The 24 shots allowed by the Sabres matched a franchise playoff record, dating to a 3-2 win at Chicago in April 1980. … Sabres C Jochen Hecht is out indefinitely after having a second operation in a week on his left pinkie. … Bruins D Andrew Ference returned after missing the final nine games of the regular season with a hernia. … Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has 53 career victories. He’s 14th on the NHL list, one ahead of Sid Abel and Bryan Murray.