BUFFALO, N.Y. – Ryan Miller will have to settle for an Olympic silver medal, a shot at the Vezina Trophy, and a whole bunch of what-ifs.
Whatever personal satisfaction the Sabres goalie derives out of a season in which he became the face – unshaven as it might be – of his team and country’s hockey club, will ultimately be outweighed by the disappointment that came with a season that ended far too soon in Buffalo.
“I feel confident I did everything that I could do,” Miller said Wednesday, two days after the Sabres were eliminated by Boston in Game 6 of the first round of the NHL playoffs.
“But when you come up short, it doesn’t feel good,” he added while joining his teammates in cleaning out their lockers. “I feel good about myself on a personal level. Obviously, it’s disappointing not to have the final team goal fall into place.”
The Sabres’ season ended with a thud. It was an unexpected finish for a team that won the Northeast Division title and featured Miller, who emerged as a star on both the league and international stage.
Miller was chosen as the Winter Olympics MVP after leading the United States to a silver-medal finish at the Vancouver Games in February. He followed that with an NHL regular season in which he was second with a 2.22 goals-against average and 92.9 save percentage. Miller won a franchise-record 41 games.
Miller wasn’t prepared to pinpoint what went wrong, nor was he willing to write off an entire season in which many good things happened as Buffalo returned to the playoffs for the first time in three years.
“I’m proud of the guys here. It was a good season. We didn’t have enough in the playoffs.” Miller said. “It’s just too bad that another post-season comes down to learning lessons.”
Those lessons include how the Sabres can’t rely on goaltending alone after a series in which their offence proved ineffective, and their smaller forwards were pushed around by the more physical Bruins.
Buffalo’s power-play went 0-for-19 against Boston, and the Sabres’ top two centres, Tim Connolly and Derek Roy, combined for only three assists. The Sabres squandered a pair of two-goal leads, as well.
Connolly revealed Wednesday he missed the final nine games of the regular season because of a broken left foot, and Buffalo’s leading scorer Thomas Vanek sat out Games 3-5 against Boston because of a sprained ankle. That didn’t help the cause, either.
“If you could name me a team that blew two leads and was 0-fer on the power play and won a series, you probably wouldn’t be able to find a lot of teams that did that,” forward Jason Pominville said. “To me, that’s the biggest reason why we lost.”
Defenceman Henrik Tallinder questioned whether the Sabres were mentally prepared for the playoffs.
“I think it might be a little bit more determination, maybe a little bit more grit, the small things that make you go far in the playoffs,” Tallinder said. “I think it’s more mental than it is anything with skill.”
The Sabres enter an uncertain off-season, during which they stand to lose three key regulars?Tallinder, defenceman Toni Lydman and forward Mike Grier?to free agency.
All three expressed interest in re-signing with Buffalo, and Sabres minority owner Larry Quinn identified all three as important to the team.
General manager Darcy Regier and coach Lindy Ruff were scheduled to meet with reporters on Thursday.
On the bright side, the Sabres got a glimpse into their future after getting solid play from numerous youngsters.
Leading the way was six-foot-eight defenceman Tyler Myers, an NHL rookie of the year finalist. He finished third among rookies with 48 points (11 goals, 37 assists), and logged a Sabres-best 23 minutes, 44 seconds of ice time.
Rookie forward Tyler Ennis finished tied for the team lead with four points in the playoffs. Rookie forward Tim Kennedy added a goal and two assists during the post-season.
“For the most part, I thought a lot of things we set out to do, we did them,” Miller said. “On one side that’s good. On the other side, it makes talking about wrapping up the season at this time of year really painful.”