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NHL Winter Classic

Special goal for Miller, big win for Rangers in Winter Classic

Forward scores on power play in overtime to defeat Sabres

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- The frigid conditions, the fog from his breath, the puck zipping around the ice -- they all made New York Rangers forward J.T. Miller feel like he was back skating on the outdoor rink in East Palestine, Ohio.

But Miller never imagined back then what he did Monday. The idea of scoring an overtime goal in the NHL's marquee regular-season game wasn't on his radar because NHL outdoor games weren't a thing when Miller was growing up in East Palestine more than 10 years ago.

They're a big deal now, and so is Miller after he put his mark on the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic by clinching a 3-2 Rangers win against the Buffalo Sabres with a power-play goal 2:43 into overtime in front of 41,821 at Citi Field.

 

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"That's a pretty surreal moment, really special," Miller said. "… In front of 40,000 people, that's something you can only dream about."

Miller, whose goal was his eighth of the season, won the face-off in the Buffalo zone to start off the play. He then parked himself in front of Sabres goalie Robin Lehner and waited for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to find the shooting lane.

"I kind of had an idea [Shattenkirk] was going to wrist it through," Miller said. "Their D played pretty wide, and I think I actually tipped the first one. Super fortunate for it to just bounce on my stick."

Shattenkirk initially faked a one-timer when he got the puck from forward Mats Zuccarello. He stickhandled and waited, and stickhandled and waited some more, until finally Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly moved enough to open the lane.

Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella and forward Johan Larsson were far enough wide that they had no chance of blocking the shot.

Video: NYR@BUF: Miller scores OT winner at Winter Classic

"The way that we were set up, I think they were definitely trying to take away Mika [Zibanejad] on his one-timer side," Shattenkirk said. "[Zuccarello] had control of the puck, the defenseman pressured him and stayed out there. With Ryan O'Reilly just trying to get in the shooting lane, it was a matter of me to wait him out, using my eyes to move him out of the lane. J.T. and I almost made eye contact, like, 'Get me the puck.' I was just able to get one into him."

Miller did get a tip on Shattenkirk's shot. The puck hit off Lehner and dropped to Miller on his backhand, and he shoveled it into the net, setting off a wild and memorable celebration.

"I kind of blacked out there," Miller said. "In that situation, you're just trying to take the goalie's eyes away and you only get lucky if it bounces on your stick, and it did."

That it was a power-play goal is no small thing considering the Rangers were 0-for-2 in the game and 6-for-57 in 20 games prior to the Winter Classic.

They needed the power-play goal as much as they needed the two points that came with the win, two points that moved them into third place in the Metropolitan Division because of their game in hand on the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"It's huge for us to hopefully have something to build on here and realize what we did to get it," Shattenkirk said of the power-play goal. "Simple. Shooting pucks. Guys at the net front. That's the formula you have to go to when things aren't going well."

Video: NYR@BUF: J.T. Miller talks Winter Classic winner

Shattenkirk's words could be used to describe the entire season for the Rangers to date. They were down, unsure of themselves, and lacking confidence with a 3-7-2 record going into their game against the Vegas Golden Knights at Madison Square Garden on Halloween.

They scored four goals in the third period to defeat Vegas 6-4, starting a 18-6-3 stretch. They are tied for the second-most wins and the second-most points (39) in the League since Oct. 31.

"Even earlier in the year, when we had our struggles, we were a better hockey team than we were showing," Miller said. "We've turned a page and moved on. I think we understood we needed to put our best foot forward, and we've done that for the most part.

"We feel really good about ourselves."

So good, in fact, that Miller told NBC's Pierre McGuire in a postgame on-ice interview that the Rangers had to keep it rolling and get ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

What was a ridiculous notion two months ago is now a realistic possibility. Miller helped the Rangers move two points closer Monday, and he did so on the big stage that reminded him of his big dreams.

"It was everything that I hoped it would be," Miller said. "To get a win in front of 40,000 people, it was pretty special for the group."

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