Ryan Miller has had one of his best seasons so far. It just so happens to be in another Olympic year.
The silver-medal winning goaltender in the 2010 Winter Olympics for Team USA, Miller has put together an impressive year with the Buffalo Sabres again in 2013. Days before USA Hockey will announce its roster for the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia, Miller put together one of his best games.
Miller made a career-high 49 saves in regulation and overtime and did not allow a goal in the shootout as the Sabres defeated the Washington Capitals 2-1 in front of a sold-out First Niagara Center on Sunday.
“He’s the best goalie in the League and I don’t say that lightly by any means,” Sabres captain Steve Ott said. “I really think that and he keeps us in there, especially tonight. The team didn’t steal the game. Ryan Miller stole that game for us and that’s the difference is how world-class he was tonight.”
In the shootout, the Sabres elected to shoot first and were denied on their first five opportunities until Ott roofed a shot over goaltender Philipp Grubauer’s blocker.
Miller stopped Eric Fehr, Alexander Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom in the shootout before forcing Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer to shoot wide. He then stopped Mike Green in the bottom of the sixth round to seal the victory.
“I didn’t want any of those guys to become shooters so I wanted to challenge them a little bit,” Miller said. “Not make the first move but kind of take away some quality areas like five-hole on Backstrom and Ovechkin, I just wanted to surprise him a little bit because he has a quick move, backhand.”
Miller is now 3-0-0 in games in which he faced 50 or more shots. The other games occurred on Nov. 5, 2013 in San Jose and on Jan. 8, 2010 against Toronto.
He’s also backstopped the Sabres to points in five straight starts for the first time since he went 8-0-2 from March 7-27, 2012.
Drew Stafford scored for Buffalo and Brouwer tied the game early in the third period for Washington. Grubauer turned aside 16 shots.
With shots 50-17, the Sabres overcame the largest shot deficit in a win in franchise history, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Buffalo opened the scoring with 1:42 remaining in the second period when Stafford deflected a shot from Christian Ehrhoff in past Capitals goaltender Philipp Grubauer. Brian Flynn’s dirty work in the corner led to the puck moving back to the point for Ehrhoff.
Stafford leads all Sabres with 14 career goals against Washington.
“Obviously more times often than not this year, I haven’t been getting those kind of bounces, those kind of breaks. I’ve feel like I’ve been getting there consistently and to get a nice little cookie, it feels pretty good.”
Stafford’s shot was only Buffalo’s 10th of the night. At the time of the goal, they Capitals had already put 30 pucks on Miller.
The Sabres were able to hold off the Capitals’ the power play, which came into the game as the best in the League. Washington had eight shots on two opportunities with the man advantage but failed to score.
They were also able to keep Alexander Ovechkin off the score sheet. The Sabres and Capitals ended the first period scoreless but Washington held a 15-3 lead in shots with Ovechkin putting six on net. The Capitals captain ended the game with a game-high 12 shots but no points.
Buffalo is 5-0-1 in its past five home games and has now won four straight home games for the first time since the team won five in a row from Feb. 19 to March 12, 2012. Also, with the win, the Sabres have points in six straight home games for the first time since they went 7-0-2 from Feb. 17 to March 24, 2012.
“We’re not exactly counting, but at the same time, it’s one of those things where it’s fun to win,” Stafford said. “There’s nothing fun about losing and most of the time, when you take care of the other things and keep it simple, that leads to wins. And it has for us recently. We’re getting some solid play up and down the lineup and obviously when we’re not our most solid, we’re getting bailed out by our goalie like tonight.”
The U.S. Olympic Team is expected to be announced at the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. Miller is hopeful that he’ll be selected.
“It’s not up to me. It depends on what they think they want to go with,” Miller said. “I think with my experience in tournament play, I think I’ve been pretty good in tournament play over my career, starting back in juniors and college. So those short sequences where you get into a week-and-a-half, two weeks, I’d like to think it’s something I’m pretty good at.
“Hopefully that’s something they value as an asset and we’ll find out in a few days. But it’s a selection I don’t have much say in other than my performance. That’s evaluated and we’ll see how it goes. ”
Stafford, a fellow American who has been Miller’s teammate since 2006, has been more than impressed with the goaltender’s performance as of late.
“Olympics or not, you know he’s going to play like that no matter what. Obviously if I’m picking the team, he’s my guy” Stafford said. “But I’m a little biased on that end.”
The Sabres will be in Winnipeg for the next game. Face off against the Jets is scheduled for 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.