Ryan Miller: 1- Flyers: 0.
While it’s hard to attribute a win in professional sports to any one player, I can confidently say that Ryan Miller stole game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last night. What was one of the ugliest playoff games I’ve seen in some time came down to, as I predicted, a single goal difference.
Sitting around with friends last night watching the game we all talked about who we would’ve picked going in to the series to have that game deciding goal and realized that while the Sabres have plenty of guys who can score, they don’t have that one standout pick to night in and night out net you the game winner. Sure Vanek has the ability to be that guy, I would like nothing more than to put him in the same category as an Ovechkin or Iginla since he’s my favorite player, but coming out and producing consistently has been an issue for him his whole career. The long-lost Derek Roy is another guy that can put the puck in the net, but he too suffers from inconsistency and right now isn’t even playing due to a season ending injury (finished 10′-11′ having appeared in only 35 games). Drew Stafford is certainly a guy who can light the lamp as he proved with a bounce back year finishing only second to Vanek in goals for the Sabres with 31 (to Vanek’s 32). Similarly, we all know Pominville’s ability along with the up and coming “little guys” Ennis and Gerbe.
The point is while there is plenty of potential and offensive talent on this team, there isn’t one single guy who you fear significantly more than the rest. To be perfectly honest, when you have a goalie like Ryan Miller who is capable of having games like tonight (stopping all 35 shots he faced) especially in the high-pressure setting of the playoffs, having that star goal scorer isn’t really the end all be all.
One guy we all agreed hadn’t crossed our minds to get the game winner was Patrick Kaleta. As Barry Melrose put it on Sports Center last night (yes I enjoy quoting the mullet after a Sabres win, see my previous post to dissolve any confusion) “Kaleta is typically a 4th line guy, an agitator and a bruiser.” For once I agree with Barry as I had even made a comment during the game that Patty would rather give away the puck on a breakaway to then lay the guy out, rather than try to score. Well I admit I bit my tongue later on in the night as Kaleta seemed to be the only player wearing a Blue and Gold sweater that was going to the net and boy did it pay off. 5:56 into a double goose egg game in the 3rd the Angola native slammed in a gritty rebound to put the Sabres up 1-0 and ultimately win the game.
Kaleta also had no shortage of his more typical “bash-bro” moments, but we’ve become much more accustomed to those (78 Penalty Minutes & 126 hits vs 4 goals & 5 assists this season).
While Kaleta played well, as I mentioned earlier, the hands down star of the night was Ryan Miller. Having recorded his second career playoff shutout (both have come vs the Flyers) Miller looks as though he is bound to save every shot he faces this post-season (wouldn’t that be nice!) The biggest advantage Miller seemed to have coming in to tonight was rest. As I mentioned in the series preview Miller barely played the final 2 weeks of the season due to an upper-body injury, which allowed him to be the most rested he’s been since the pre-season. If you want to get all sentimental Enroth deserves a big round of applause for last nights win after sitting his butt on the bunch the whole games, why you ask? Because without his tremendous play down the stretch, one we might not be here and two Miller wouldn’t have been able to take the time he needed to recover.
Out of Miller’s 35 saves many of them were top-notch and required him to be completely dialed in fighting pressure and traffic in front of the net, however my favorite save was against former Sabre and now Sabre killer Danny Briere with only a minute and a half left in a 1-0 game. How the Sabres defense allowed Briere of all people to skate in the zone and riffle a slapshot point-blank is beyond me, but they did and Miller stood tall. I must admit that as I saw speedy #48 flying into the zone deking and then winding up for a slap shot my heart skipped several beats as Briere is not only great against the Sabres, but great in the playoffs in general. In case you were refilling the taco dip or grabbing another beer here’s the play just click the link (no need to thank me I know I’m the best).
While I thoroughly enjoyed the game 1 win several players need to step up if the Sabres hope to take game 2 as well. Both Tyler Myers and Steve Montador were terrible, no way around it. Both gave away the puck in their own end several time and looked shaky skating. Both also took terrible penalties and put even more pressure on Superman, I mean uh Ryan Miller. As defenders you are supposed to make smart decisions and help your goaltender, not make things worse. Myers is still young and learning, but there is really no excuse for Montador’s terrible play. With Sekera and Leopold out (I’ll get to this in a bit) the defense needs to come together and help Miller in game 2 because the guy simply cannot stand on his head every single game.
3 players on the Flyers that played very well and need some extra attention going into game 2 are:
1) Danny Briere (duh)
2) James van Riemsdyk (given the first star of the game over Miller, really?…)
3) Kimmo Timonen (pestered the Sabres all night taking cheap little shots, perhpas Goose or Kaleta can set him straight?)
*Chris Pronger: I would include this giant goon in my update, however it has been confirmed as of 2:15pm EST that he will be out for game 2 (tears are rolling down my face as I write this…JOKE)
Sabres injury updates: Two huge additions to the Sabres practice today are Dmen Jordan Leopold and Reggie Sekera.
Does this mean they will be ready to return to the lineup for Game 2?
We will have to see, but what a gift for the Sabres if they could get these two back. My opinion is that even though we won game 1 (some would argue you don’t mess with a winning lineup) you sit Montador and Morrison and play Leopold and Sekera. Reggie is a crucial part of our PP and Leopold is a strong veteran presence who can put the puck in the net as well.
That’s all for my game 1 reactions. I can’t wait for game 2 tomorrow night, but after a disappointing loss for the Flyers in game 1 in their own building you better believe they are gonna come out Saturday night twice as hard and attempt to send this thing back to Buffalo 1-1. Ruff and co. should be prepared and with Miller playing lights out the Sabres are in good shape, but the D needs to play better and puck possession needs to swing more evenly in Buffalo’s favor.
LET’S GO BUFFALO!!!
Game 2: Saturday, April 16 at Philadelphia, 5:05 p.m. MSG, TSN