Miller’s flawless performance against Flyers is just what he — and the Blues — needed
ST. LOUIS — Uh-oh.
That’s what St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said he was thinking late in overtime on Tuesday when Flyers forward Jakub Voracek corralled a pass in front and was all alone against Ryan Miller with a chance to net the game-winner.
"I think we all were," Shattenkirk admitted.
But then Miller stretched every bit of his scrawny 6-foot-2, 168-pound frame and was able to keep his right pad down to protect the left post and turn away yet another scoring opportunity to keep the score tied.
"Sure enough, he holds his post well and was able to make that save," Shattenkirk said. "We got pretty fired up by that."
So did the crowd of 18,647 at Scottrade Center, which rose to its feet to give the goaltender a standing ovation at the next stoppage.
It was just one of the memorable moments Tuesday as the Blues pulled out a 1-0 shootout victory against the visiting Flyers and Miller stopped 31 shots to record his first shutout with the Blues.
This was, finally, Miller Time.
This was exactly what Miller — and the rest of the Blues — needed.
Miller’s first 13 starts with St. Louis were a mix of good (nine wins) and some not-so-good (four losses, including one in overtime) that left the veteran goalie a bit frustrated with his recent performances and had some fans wondering what all the fuss was about following the February trade of Jaroslav Halak and Chris Stewart to Buffalo for Miller and Steve Ott.
"I think what you saw today was how competitive he is," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "That’s his calling card. He’s such a competitive person. He was really disappointed with the way he played the last game, and we really needed him today and he was really competitive. I haven’t seen that for a long time in anybody, really, since (Ed) Belfour where a guy makes that many great saves. And it was really neat to watch, to be honest with you.
"The feeling on the bench for me was they weren’t going to score, and I haven’t had that feeling in a game where I’ve been outplayed. There’s been lots of times where Els (Brian Elliott) and Jaro (Halak) played well, but we also played well in front of them. But we really needed a goalie today and he came through big-time."
This was the kind of performance many expected when the Blues (51-17-7, 109 points in 75 games) acquired Miller in the days before the trade deadline, a deal that had been rumored for many months and was seen as possibly the catalyst for St. Louis finally making a legitimate run in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring.
That wasn’t what we saw Saturday night when the Dallas Stars scored four times on just 27 shots in a 4-2 victory, Hitchcock described the new Blues goalie’s performance as "really average" and Miller expressed his frustrations with his play.
Saturday night marked the fourth time in five starts that Miller had allowed either three or four goals after beginning his Blues career by allowing three goals just once in his first eight starts.
"I felt like in the last four or five games it hasn’t really gone my way, and I wanted to go out and grind and compete and see if one could go my way. And it did," Miller said.
Yeah, he showed Tuesday why he is regarded as one of the best in the business, the goalie who helped the U.S. Olympic team to the silver medal in Vancouver in 2010 and has won a Vezina Trophy.
"That’s why we brought him here," said T.J. Oshie, who netted the first of two St. Louis goals in the shootout. "I talked him up a little bit before he got here, telling the boys he’s a good goaltender. It was pretty amazing what he was out there doing tonight."
Said Shattenkirk: "I think everyone really got to see Ryan Miller tonight, and that’s why he here. He’s been getting more comfortable in our system and our team game. He just was on tonight. You could sense it, and it was really fun to watch."
Miller admitted to having some fun as well, even though he was under siege for 60 minutes of regulation, five minutes of overtime and then two shootout attempts by Vincent Lecavalier and Claude Giroux.
In 14 starts with the Blues, Miller is now 10-3-1 with a 2.01 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.
There are no perfect games in hockey, but Miller was perfect Thursday in recording the 29th shutout of his 11-year career and his first in 101 games. His last shutout came so long ago — March 21, 2012, against Montreal — that he couldn’t recall when it actually happened.
"I don’t know," Miller said. "Look it up. It might be two years ago. I don’t even remember."
Miller will certainly remember this one.
So will his teammates and St. Louis fans.
If this is just the start of things to come for Miller and the Blues this month, with just seven regular-season games remaining before the start of the Western Conference playoffs, it might be a performance that none of them will ever forget.
"I think it’s his coming-out party," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. "He’s been solid most of the games for us, and he just stepped it up another level tonight."
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at email@example.com.