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Blues' Miller happy to see Sabres, not play them

by Louie Korac

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the Buffalo Sabres traded goalie Ryan Miller to the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 28, it ended nearly 15 years of Miller playing for the only NHL organization he knew.

So when Miller's new team and old team play for the first time since the trade Thursday at Scottrade Center, he'll be on the bench; Brian Elliott will make the start instead.

"It's fine," Miller said after practice Wednesday. "There will be a lot of time to worry about that later. This year it's pretty fresh leaving that situation, so maybe it's just a full break, get [Elliott] in there.

"Hopefully I get to see some of the boys for dinner or see them around the rink, catch up and see how they're doing."

Watching the Sabres without being part of the group will be something different for Miller. He was drafted by Buffalo in the fifth round (No. 138) of the 1999 NHL Draft and made his NHL debut with the Sabres during the 2002-03 season. He ranks as the franchise's all-time leader in games played (540) and wins (284).

"It's going to be a little strange," Miller said. "There were a group of guys I played with for a number of years. It's going to be a little bit different but all great guys, all guys I count as friends. I'm looking forward to seeing them.

"On the human side of it I'm glad the guys are going to be in town. A chance to see some friends."

Asked if he picked Miller's brain about shooters from his former team, Elliott said, "No, his brain's too complicated. I just like to keep it simple, play my own game, and wait for the puck to come to me and worry about the rest later."

Though leaving Miller on the bench removes some of the drama from the game, the Blues and Miller are looking at the big picture. With upcoming games against Central Division rivals Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks in back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday, the Blues have larger goals in mind, such as a division title, the top spot in the Western Conference and perhaps the Presidents' Trophy.

To accomplish all that they'll need Miller down the stretch and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"We're not trying to get too far ahead, but definitely trying to be playing the right way leading into the playoffs," Miller said. "For me [a 1-0 shootout victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday] was a good step forward. I just want to keep making the steps necessary. Hopefully we're where we all need to be. It doesn't have to be perfect hockey but it needs to be the right kind of hockey. We have to have a good attitude and the belief in this locker room."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has a plan for Miller and Elliott for the rest of the regular season, but he did talk to Miller before opting to go with Elliott against the Sabres.

"We talked to [Miller] and said, 'Listen, do you have to play against Buffalo? Does it matter?'" Hitchcock said. "He didn't care one way or the other, so it set up our schedule nicely for what we wanted to do right to the end of the season. This set our schedule up and that's what we're going to follow through on."

Steve Ott, who came to St. Louis from the Sabres along with Miller, will play against the Sabres. He spent parts of two seasons in Buffalo, and was captain this season.

"I hope none of the [Sabres] try to wake him up too much," Miller joked of Ott. "You know how he gets when he gets really awake.

"I don't think anybody's going to try and give him too hard of a time. He likes to stir things up. I'm sure he's going to be running his mouth a little bit. That's how we have fun."

There will be much more meaning for Miller when he has to return to Buffalo and the First Niagara Center as a visiting player.

"It's always weird when you play your former team," said Blues forward Derek Roy, another former Sabre who faced Buffalo earlier this season at First Niagara Center for the first time. "It's even more weird when you play in the opposite building and sit in the opposite bench. Going back to Buffalo was kind of weird for me and I'm sure it's going to be weird for him."

"When that comes around, we'll look forward to that," Miller said.

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