Ryan Miller Returns to 2008 Form; Sabres Suddenly in Contention

 
on March 02 2012 11:41 AM
Ryan Miller stretches for a glove save. The Sabres goaltender has become a force over the past two weeks.
Ryan Miller stretches for a glove save. The Sabres goaltender has become a force over the past two weeks. REUTERS

Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller opened the team's current west coast road trip with a return to the form he has been lacking all year, shutting out Anaheim and San Jose on back-to-back nights.

Miller stopped all 82 shots he faced on the road trip, and is now an eye popping 5-0-1 in his last six games with a .965 save percentage and a 1.34 goals against average.

But it isn't just that he is making all of the saves, but that some of them have been eye-poppingly great. Sharks forward Ryane Clowe probably had nightmares about Miller last night after he was robbed on three separate occasions.  

But Clowe is not alone, Joe Thornton had several chances last night, and the Ducks were so frustrated the night before that the end of that game devolved into an ugly brawl in the final five minutes resulting in 106 total penalty minutes and fighting majors to Ducks stars Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry, guys who aren't exactly known for dropping the gloves.

That's the Ryan Miller that won the Veznia Trophy, Sabres defender Mike Webber told the Buffalo News after the game.

Miller won his Veznia in 2008, the same year he led team USA to a silver medal at the Olympics in Vancouver. He has not been nearly the same goalie since that season, struggling through the first half last year and looking so shaky this season that fans were calling for him to be traded before the deadline.

But that is all behind him and his team now and with the current run of success, the Sabres are suddenly back in playoff contention. With 18 games left on the schedule, they are just four points back of eighth place Winnipeg and have two games in hand on the Jets. That alone is an incredible accomplishment for a team that was last in the Eastern Conference on February 17 and ten points out.

Maybe Miller has found some motivation in the Sabres deadline deals, his best friend on the roster, Paul Gaustad, was traded away to Nashville on Monday.

Miller was unhappy with that move, telling the Buffalo News' John Vogl, Like I've said, we don't make those decisions. That's more proof because if I had any more influence Paul would still be here. I appreciate the way he plays. He's been one of my best friends for a long time there. Obviously, that's going to continue, but it was nice to have him as a teammate and have those other intangibles.

When those comments were made early this week, many observers thought Miller had finally checked out on the season, but it appears now that the opposite is true.

Perhaps he realized that he did have influence on the trade. If Miller, and the rest of the Sabres had played anywhere near their preseason expectations for the first five months of the season, Gaustad likely wouldn't have been shipped out of town.

But whatever the reason, Buffalo now looks like a very dangerous team in the race to eighth place with teams like Florida, Winnipeg, Washington and Toronto.

Maybe Miller's rejuvenation has more to do with his location than anything else. The team has been in California for the past three days and will continue the trip up the west coast to Vancouver for a game on Saturday then close it out with a pivotal game at Winnipeg on Monday.

California is Miller's new offseason home. He was born and raised in Michigan, but in September he married his long-time girlfriend Noureen DeWulf, an actress who lives in Southern California.

With both of them working time consuming jobs on different sides of the country, they obviously don't get much time to see each other, so perhaps the ability to go home, and get some family time has allowed him to clear his head.

Whatever the reason, Miller's play has been exception for the past two weeks, and has reached history proportions over these past two days. If the Sabres can find a way to keep the roll going, they are suddenly favorites to grab one of the final spots in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

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