Miller, who is considered the frontrunner to take home the Vezina Trophy as the top goaltender in the National Hockey League, will not be between the pipes for the Sabres on Tuesday night when the Penguins host Buffalo in the first contest following the Olympic break. Patrick Lalime will get the call instead.
It will be a well-deserved night off for Miller, who stood on his head in Vancouver as the United States transformed from Olympic afterthoughts to silver medalists in two short weeks. Miller was named MVP of the tournament after leading the Games with a .946 save percentage and ranking second with a 1.35 goals-against average.
“It was a good tournament,” Miller said. “Hopefully we made some new hockey fans here in the United States. It was exciting for all the people in Canada. In Vancouver it was all anyone could talk about for two weeks. The two games against the Canadians were fun. I thought we performed very well against them as a team.”
In a tournament filled with clutch goals, dramatic finishes and scintillating upsets, one of the lasting memories was the goaltending clinic Miller put on against Canada in the final game of the preliminary round on Feb. 21.
Going head-to-head against Martin Brodeur, arguably the greatest goaltender in the history of the sport, with the top seed in Pool A on the line, Miller turned in the game of his life. He stopped 42 of the 45 Canadian shots, including a desperation glove save on Jarome Iginla’s drive from the slot as Miller lay prone on the ice in the final minutes of the third period.
Miller’s acrobatics helped the U.S. steal a much-need victory over the Canadians on that night, and the wins kept coming as the medal round began.
“He was great and he was solid throughout the whole tournament,” Sidney Crosby
said. “Their whole team was really strong but he was really consistent and that’s why he was MVP. He showed up every time he played, game after game he made the key saves he had to make. He did everything he could do.”
Although Miller didn’t have to do as much against the Swiss in the quarterfinal round as he did in other games, the play of Switzerland’s Jonas Hiller at the opposite end of the rink forced Miller to stay at the top of his game. With the Americans only able to get one shot behind Hiller until a late empty-netter, Miller made that lone goal stand up with a goose egg.
Miller was perfect yet again in the semifinal contest against Finland, pitching an 18-save shutout prior to being lifted in favor of Tim Thomas midway through the third period to rest for Sunday’s Gold Medal Game versus Canada. He took a shutout streak of 111:38 into the finale.
With an entire continent watching on Sunday afternoon, Miller performed his best Jim Craig impersonation as the Americans, who hadn’t beaten the Canadians in Olympic play since Squaw Valley in 1960, looked to knock them off for the second time in an eight-day span.
Led by another 36-save masterpiece from Miller, a team that didn’t give up when Canada went ahead 2-0 and a game-tying goal by Zach Parise with 24.4 seconds remaining in regulation, the Americans had all the momentum as the game headed into overtime.
Crosby dashed those hopes when he took a give-and-go pass from Jarome Iginla and snapped a shot through the wickets of Miller to steal the gold medal from under the Americans.
“He made a smart play,” Miller said. “He barely picked his head up. He just knew where he wanted to go with it. He caught the pass on the forehand turning his body so I thought I had time to step out and maybe take some space away.
“I had been aggressive the whole tournament so I wasn’t going to lose by sitting back in my net. I was sitting there reading the play and I stepped out and got beat. If he stickhandles once I have him and if he shoots he scores. That is the way it goes.”
Despite the obvious disappointment of his watching his ultimate dream dashed, Miller said on Tuesday that the U.S. should be proud of the way they came back against Canada, and with how they performed above expectations throughout the tournament.
“We put ourselves in a 2-0 hole but we fought back,” Miller said. “I thought we had a great team. We came together and we played really well. We complemented each other really well and were positive from the top down.
“I commend Brian Burke for being a big part of it given what he had to go through leading up to it. Our staff was great. Our leadership with Jamie Langenbrunner and Chris Drury – everything kind of filtered down and made it a great experience.
“We all kind of felt like we could go there and play good hockey. As it got closer to our goal, we felt like we were a close team. It was unfortunate we couldn’t accomplish something just a little bit greater. We did a nice job and we had a lot of fun.”
Not long after his heartbreak, Miller had to skate through the traditional handshake line where he was eventually greeted by his head coach in Buffalo, Lindy Ruff, one of the assistant coaches for Team Canada. It was a difficult exchange for both men.
“It was kind of surreal to be playing against your head coach in that way,” Miller said. “I think he felt it was difficult playing against his goalie and no doubt planning some offense around it. He just wanted to let me know he was proud of what I did in the tournament. At the moment it was pretty emotional. I really didn’t have a lot to say because I was pretty emotional.”
“Emotionally, I knew how devastating it was going to be for him,” Ruff said. “I knew there wasn’t anything I was going to say that was going to make it any better. I wanted him to know what a tremendous tournament he had and that he created a lot of hope for that team (in the U.S.). … I told him to be proud of the way he played.”
Ruff is just one of many who were proud of the way Miller represented his country in Vancouver. Penguins fans will get a chance to show their appreciation for Miller’s efforts when all the Olympians from both teams are honored in a ceremony before tonight’s game. Miller is expected to get an ovation that should rival the one showered upon Crosby and American blueliner Brooks Orpik
“That would be a first,” Miller said. “I usually hear my name in other ways. It is nice that the Olympics can help bring that out of the crowds here in the NHL. … It would be nice to have a crowd appreciate your effort when you are on the road.
“That is what is good about hockey fans – they enjoy a good hockey game. It’s not just about one team all the time, it’s about the sport. It’s nice that the U.S. really tuned in for it.”
Without question, Miller earned himself thousands of new fans both in Pittsburgh and throughout the country thanks to his legendary performance.
“I always knew he was a good goalie but I didn’t know how good he was,” Orpik said. “I think everyone, not just on our team but in the hockey world, has a lot more appreciation for how good he is now.”