VANCOUVER -- Heading into Sunday's game against Canada, the Americans believed they had the best goalie in the tournament.
Jack Johnson went so far as to brazenly state Saturday that the Americans were "starting the best goalie in the world" in Sunday's game against Canada.
Needless to say, that boldness was met with rolled eyes and stifled laughs by many. After all, what had Miller ever won? And how could Johnson possibly stack the Buffalo Sabres netminder up against Canada's Martin Brodeur and Sweden's Henrik Lundqvist, the goalies of the past two Olympic champions?
Well, the chuckles coming out Canada's portion of the Doubting Thomas camp have been stopped -- for at least a night -- after Miller made 42 saves to outplay Brodeur and not only keep his team in a game it had no business being in at times, but help deliver a 5-3 victory to take the Group A title and earn an unexpected bye into Wednesday's quarterfinals.
"In fairness, Canada probably out-chanced us two-to-one," American coach Ron Wilson said.
In fact, the Canadians out-shot the Americans 45-23 in a memorable night for Team USA at Canada Hockey Place. The win was the first by the Americans against a Canadian team in Olympic competition since the 1960 Games at Squaw Valley and the first ever against the full national team. Team USA's two other Olympic wins against Canada came against club teams representing Canada, not a representative national team.
"He was the best I've ever seen him play," American forward Ryan Kesler said. "He gave us a chance to win."
Miller, a leading candidate for the Vezina Trophy this year because of his outstanding season with Buffalo, showed the rest of the hockey world what Sabres fans already know.
Wilson is all too familiar with Miller's ability to steal a game as Wilson's NHL team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, are in the same Northeast Division as the Sabres.
"Ryan Miller was outstanding tonight," Wilson said. "He was every bit as good as I have seen him throughout the season."
It seems that virtually every Canadian player could tell a tale of woe about one-on-one encounters with Miller on Sunday.
Patrick Marleau alone was stopped on six different occasions. Crosby was denied on a breakaway in the game's third minute to set in motion an awful night for the Canadian superstar, who scored a late goal on a one-timer, but finished a woeful minus-3. Later in the first, Corey Perry made one of the prettier spin-o-rama moves of his career only to see a Miller toe save leave it all for naught.
But it was Iginla -- a former 50-goal scorer -- who was the poster boy for the headaches Miller caused the host team. It was late in the third period and the Canadians were coming in waves looking for two goals to erase a 4-2 deficit. Iginla surely had one on his stick when a rebound pooped into the slot and Miller was scrambling to find his position.
Instead of the red light and an explosion by the desperate crowd at CHP, the puck found the webbing of Miller's glove as the goalie fell forward to the ice.
"He played outstanding," American forward Chris Drury, a former Miller teammate in Buffalo, said. "He was there, square to every shot. He played a heck of a game. He was our backbone back there."
Afterward, Miller seemed to be the only one being modest about what he had just accomplished. He insisted it was his teammates that made his performance possible and it was just another night at the office.
"It was a little busy, but that's to be expected from Canada," Miller told NHL.com. "Watching their other games, they get a lot of pucks to the net and it was no different tonight."
For the rest of the American team, it was validation of what they already believed; a validation that will only help their confidence when the quarterfinals arrive on Wednesday.