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Blues' Miller struggles in first-round series loss

by Dan Rosen

CHICAGO -- Ryan Miller was acquired by the St. Louis Blues to be the missing piece of a Stanley Cup championship puzzle, the goalie capable of stealing a game or two and putting his team on his back by making the impossible save possible.

That was the plan anyway, and it seemed foolproof at the time the Blues brought Miller in on Feb. 28 in a blockbuster trade with the Buffalo Sabres.

It didn't end well. Miller wasn't close to helping the Blues bring the Stanley Cup to St. Louis for the first time.

He gave up five goals on 27 shots Sunday, including four on 16 shots in the third period, when the Chicago Blackhawks turned a tight game into a 5-1 series-clinching victory against the Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference First Round at United Center.

Miller finished the series with a .897 save percentage and 2.70 goals-against average. He allowed three or more goals in five games. He gave up only one goal in Game 3, but his counterpart in the other net, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, was better that night with a 34-save shutout.

Miller hasn't been the winning goalie in a Stanley Cup Playoff round since 2007.

"Didn't get it done," Miller said.

While the Blackhawks move on to play the winner of the series between the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild, Miller and the Blues move on to curious days and weeks ahead.

Miller can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Miller said contract talks with the Blues were "not very serious" before the playoffs began, but now it's fair to wonder if the Blues even want to resume negotiations at all based off of the series against Chicago and the fact that they have Jake Allen, who was named the most outstanding goalie in the American Hockey League this season, waiting in the wings.

"We're through with the hockey part now, and we'll have to see where we're at, see how they feel about me," Miller said. "I definitely like St. Louis. Like the guys, like the team, but we'll see what they feel about the playoffs."

Miller wasn't the only reason the Blues were eliminated in six games after winning the first two. He wasn't even close to being the only reason. To put the blame only on him would be flat-out wrong.

It's not his fault that the Blues power play was powerless, going 0-for-6 in Game 6 to finish the series 2-for-29.

It's not all his fault that St. Louis' penalty kill couldn't get the job done when it had to Sunday.

The Blues gave up the game-winning goal to Jonathan Toews 44 seconds into the third period with Jay Bouwmeester still sitting in the penalty box, his tripping minor having carried over through the second intermission.

It's not Miller's fault that the Blues struggled to get the puck past Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith at the left point, leading directly to Bryan Bickell's goal in the first period and Toews' power-play goal in the third.

It's not Miller's fault that the Blues had problems getting shots through the first layer of the Blackhawks' defense all series, and got burned by it in Game 6, when Patrick Sharp blocked Kevin Shattenkirk's shot and was quickly sprung by Patrick Kane for a breakaway goal that put Chicago up 3-1.

"He did more of his share and we needed to be better in front of him," Backes said.

Ryan Miller
Goalie - STL
GAA: 2.70 | SVP: 0.897
But Miller knows he could have been better behind them too. The Blues might still have had a chance at a comeback Sunday if Miller came up with that save on Sharp's breakaway.

"I was in the right spot and that last [second], he kind of chipped it in between," Miller said. "It's just too bad."

That's the save he was brought to St. Louis to make, the one at the clutch time, when the Blues needed him the most.

If they trusted Jaroslav Halak enough to make that save, they wouldn't have shipped him to Buffalo along with Chris Stewart, a prospect and two conditional draft picks, including a first, for Miller, Steve Ott and the potential for some draft picks based on conditions of the trade.

"I'm sure there are some goals that he'd like to have back, just like any goalie would, but this is we win as a team, we lose as a team," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "My god, we gave up a breakaway for the third goal and we got seamed on the second goal. That's not the goalies fault. Those are big errors. … Those are big errors we just can't make."

But they're errors that can be masked with a big save. Just ask the Blackhawks.

Crawford made some of those saves in the series, particularly with his stick on T.J. Oshie in the third period of Game 5, and with the back of his glove to knock the puck off the goal line 4:10 into the second period Sunday. Each save came when the games were tied.

Miller seemed to be at his best in the series when the Blues were down a goal. He gave them a chance to mount comebacks in Games 1, 2, 4 and 5, but he let in the first goal in each of the past four games and the Blues lost them all.

"I'll sit down and think about that," Miller said when he was asked to assess his overall play in the series. "I don't know. Not good enough I guess."

So now what?

"I guess I'm free to go to my sister-in-law's wedding," Miller said. "That's about it."


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