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Perfectionist Miller just wants to help Canucks

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- Ryan Miller has always been a perfectionist.

The Vancouver Canucks goaltender will spend hours fidgeting with every aspect of his equipment, even driving an hour out of his way after a recent Stanley Cup Playoff practice to visit a hockey store in search of new options. The same thing goes for his game and style tweaks made in his first season with Canucks goaltending coach Roland Melanson.

Miller is meticulous in his preparation, but it wasn't possible for him to take his usual approach given he was a late entry into an emotionally charged Western Conference First Round series against the Calgary Flames.

Coming off a right-knee injury that kept him out most of two months, Miller came on in relief of Eddie Lack in Game 4 on Tuesday, and then made his first playoff start with the Canucks on Thursday with Vancouver down 3-1 in the best-of-7 series. Forget no margin for error -- Miller had little of the timing and rhythm his game has relied on for so long. His knee wasn't even 100 percent.

For an admitted perfectionist, it was far from ideal.

"Oh yeah, I felt that," Miller said. "It's an odd situation for me not to have the flow and timing. You generally get this deep into the season and you have a lot of games under your belt. I am just trying to take the approach it's all about the mentality at this point. It's not about timing. It's not about the physical side of things. It's all about mentally: Can I get into the fight, and how long can I stay there?"

Miller kept the Canucks in the fight by making saves on 20 of 21 shots in a tight 2-1 victory, forcing a Game 6 on Saturday in Calgary (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). If the circumstances are uncomfortable, his teammates aren't seeing it.

"When he came in and played those 40 minutes [in Game 4], you could see how calm and confident he was about his game," defenseman Yannick Weber said. "That gave us some confidence too."

It's a confidence that comes from playing 12 NHL seasons and 55 playoff games; from winning a Vezina Trophy and helping the United States to a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. It's why the Canucks signed Miller to a three-year free agent contract last July after trading Roberto Luongo late last season.

"He has a lot on his resume that gives us confidence," Weber said. "He's a world-class goalie. He has been in the League a long time. He has won a Vezina Trophy, an Olympic MVP and a silver medal."

Among the few things missing on Miller's resume is a Stanley Cup, and that made it easier for the 34-year-old to abandon his comfort zone and push hard in practice for a chance to get back in these playoffs.

"You have to put yourself out there and take risks in life to do anything," Miller said. "You risk taking criticism, you risk a lot of different things, your reputation, but you have to have a willingness to do it. … Any chance you get at this time of year, you have to just embrace it and put yourself out there and give it your best."

Ryan Miller
Ryan Miller
Goalie - VAN
GAA: 0.61 | SVP: .972
For Miller that means playing when he doesn't feel his best. In a strange way, that might even re-enforce some of the style changes he tried to make this season. Asked to be more conservative with his positioning and have less of that flow and extra movement that forced him to rely more on the rhythm he talks about, Miller bought in as the season went on, cutting himself some statistical slack early because he believed his game would be better for it by the time playoffs started.

Those plans were derailed when he sprained his MCL in a collision with teammate Jannik Hansen on Feb. 22. It's an especially tough injury for a goalie and one Miller admits won't fully heal this season.

But after a rusty return in the regular-season finale, any lingering lack of strength and power in his legs may force Miller to further simplify his game.

"Maybe a little bit," he said. "For me it makes me kind of drop the perfectionism a little bit. I don't have to be perfect, just go compete and get in front of the puck. Maybe it strips everything down, but we'll see if that theory is reinforced [in Game 6]."

Whether it is, Miller's presence can still be a positive for the Canucks.

"He's really calm, no ups or downs," captain Henrik Sedin said. "His emotions are very calm and he brings that to the locker room."

Miller doesn't expect those emotions to spike because of the raucous crowd at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. He compared it to playing Canada in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics, or as a visitor against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre.

"It's about enjoying the moment," Miller said. "It's pretty cool to get that many people together and that excited about hockey to the point they really want you to mess up. They've got a ton of red jerseys and you have to sit back and appreciate people love hockey that much and you are the one out there who gets to play the game. Just try and stick with that respect for the game and also the mentality that for me it's just about entering the fight and seeing how long I can stay in it."

The Canucks are counting on Miller to keep them in it awhile longer.

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