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by Rob Crean / Buffalo Sabres
Ryan Miller, a veteran of 40 Stanley Cup Playoff games and two Eastern Conference Finals appearances, enters the postseason with limited work under his belt in the last two weeks.  The reigning Vezina Trophy winner missed four games with an upper body injury down the stretch, then played in parts of the final two games.  In the clinching win over Philadelphia on April 8, Miller entered the game in place of Jhonas Enroth to begin the third period and went on to stop all eight shots he faced. 

Ryan Miller (Photo: Bill Wippert)
Despite the lack of recent playing time, Miller said the string of practices this week and his appearance in a high-pressure situation have him ready to embark on another postseason run as the Sabres and Flyers begin their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series on Thursday in Philadelphia.

“I feel like I had strong practices and I had the chance to jump right in the fire in that third period against Philly in Game No.  81.  That was playoff hockey right there,” said Miller.

Head Coach Lindy Ruff agreed with Miller’s assessment, and thinks the time off will benefit his starting netminder.

“Ryan is as fresh as he’s ever been for a postseason with only a couple periods of play over the last couple of weeks and four days (off) before we start a series. I would look at that as he should be as strong as he’s ever been and as fresh as he’s ever been,” said Ruff.

A proven playoff performer, the 30-year-old Miller is 22-18 in the postseason, with a 2.39 goals against average.  He also went 5-1 with a 1.35 goals against average at last year’s Olympic Games to lead Team USA to a silver medal and was named the tournament’s most valuable player and outstanding goaltender.  The knowledge gained by playing in such meaningful games is not lost on Miller.

“These are the positions you want to be in.  I’ve had the chance to play in a lot of big games in my career and I want to just keep learning from them.  I want to keep putting myself in these positions,” he said.

Miller’s teammates have no doubt that he’ll be ready to play for Game 1, despite missing time.

“He’s definitely the heart and soul of this organization. He competes, he works extremely hard, he’s really professional about everything he does and every night he gives us an opportunity to win,” Jason Pominville said.

While goaltenders have a way of finding themselves in the spotlight over the course of a playoff series, Buffalo’s netminder knows it will take a full team effort to get past Philadelphia.

“My mentality is, the Sabres are going up against the Flyers.  There will be some individual stories within that, but overall, it is the Sabres against the Flyers.  Everyone is going to play a big part and I just want to do mine.”

When the puck drops on the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series between the Sabres and Flyers on Thursday, it will mark the ninth all-time playoff series between the two franchises, the most times Buffalo has ever faced one team in the postseason.

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While Philadelphia has won five of the eight playoff series between the teams, Buffalo has won each of the last two matchups and three of the last four.  The most recent playoff showdown between the teams came in 2006, when the Sabres defeated the Flyers in six games during the first round series. 

The 2010-11 season series between the clubs has played out similar fashion.  Philadelphia took the first two meetings before the Sabres won each of the last two, including last Friday’s thrilling 4-3 overtime victory 

“The first game in Philly, they had the upper hand. They played better than us, they deserved that game.  I would argue that game at home, we executed to a certain point until we made a couple of mistakes,” Ruff said of the two losses to Philadelphia.

The first of those defeats was a 6-3 loss on the road back on Oct. 26.  The Sabres had gotten off to a rocky start, and the loss dropped them to 3-6-1.  It was not until Jan. 11 in Buffalo that the teams would meet again.  The Sabres jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, but the Flyers would score the next five on their way to a 5-2 victory.

“I think discipline is going to be of the utmost importance when it comes to staying away from special teams situations and giving the Flyers the extra opportunities. We want to be real hard in a lot of situations and we want to make it tough for the Flyers to play." - Head Coach Lindy Ruff
Buffalo’s fortunes had changed by the time the clubs faced off again on March 5 in Philadelphia as the Sabres had charged back into playoff contention.  This time, however, it was the Sabres who had to come back from a first period, two-goal deficit, and they did so in winning by a score of 5-3.  The final matchup, like the previous two, was a back-and-forth affair.  Buffalo fell behind 1-0, took a 2-1 lead, then surrendered a pair of goals to trail 3-2 before finally tying the game in the third period and forcing overtime, where the Sabres eventually won courtesy of an end-to-end rush by Thomas Vanek.

Although the last three meetings have seen plenty of ties and lead changes, Ruff expects the playoff games between Buffalo and Philadelphia to take on a different tone.

“Playoffs tend to get a little bit tighter.  Teams realize that a lot of times, 2-1 or 3-2, or sometimes even 1-0 is a game you’re going to have to win,” he said.

One thing Ruff said will be essential for his team in this series is discipline.  Despite a power play unit that ranked 19th in the NHL this season at 16.6%, Philadelphia went 5-for-12 (41.7%) in four games against Buffalo and features seven 20-goal scorers on its roster.

“I think discipline is going to be of the utmost importance when it comes to staying away from special teams situations and giving the Flyers the extra opportunities,” Ruff said.  “We want to be real hard in a lot of situations and we want to make it tough for the Flyers to play.  We want to go through bodies, but careless and needless penalties are something we’ve addressed as a team and we’re going to stay away from.”
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