Miller gets shutout, lifts Sabres past Flyers
Ryan Miller never buckled.
Not when the Flyers rushed the net and pounded him with pucks. Not even when Philadelphia had a two-man edge, a rowdy home-ice crowd begging for a score, and momentum on its side.
Miller held them all off and the Buffalo Sabres took quick control of the series.
Miller stopped 35 shots for his second career postseason shutout and Patrick Kaleta scored to lift the Sabres to a 1-0 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoff series Thursday night.
''I told myself no matter what happened out there, I was going to stay contained, stay cool,'' Miller said.
He was the coolest player on skates in the opener.
Miller stopped every shot under all types of pressure and carried the Sabres to the clutch opening win. The teams have met eight times in the postseason and the Game 1 winner won the series each time.
Kaleta snapped the scoreless tie early in the third period when he powered a rebound past rookie Sergei Bobrovsky.
No team was more resilient in last year's playoffs than the Flyers. They trailed Boston 3-0 in the East semifinals before taking the series and playing until a Game 6 loss to Chicago in the Stanley Cup finals.
Game 2 is Saturday in Philadelphia.
The Sabres - 10 points out of a playoff spot on Jan. 17 - cracked the scoreless tie 5:56 into the third period on Kaleta's second career postseason goal.
Buffalo won a fight for the puck along the boards and dumped it across the zone to Marc-Andre Gragnani. He fired a slapper from the top of the circle and Kaleta knocked in the rebound from the low slot for the 1-0 lead.
Kaleta, denied earlier in the game on a rebound, was healthy enough to play at a perfect time after missing most of the last month of the season with a bruised knee.
He almost didn't play.
''I didn't really make my decision until today whether I was going to play him. It was a tough decision, but I thought he played very well,'' coach Lindy Ruff said. ''I thought he ran over a few people, but kept his game in control.''
Miller was flawless from there and the Sabres - the hottest team in the Eastern Conference since Jan. 1 - kept rolling in the postseason.
Once a rowdy and devastating home-ice advantage, Philadelphia continues to struggle at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers dropped six straight games at home before snapping that streak in the regular-season finale. They now have a Game 1 loss after dropping Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals here last season.
Miller was the reason for their latest loss.
''We did a good job of stepping up and getting a hold of some pucks and some blocks,'' Miller said.
The Flyers attacked the net with a barrage of shots that went nowhere except straight into Miller. The former MVP of the Olympics stopped Kimmo Timonen on a slapper midway through the second period when the Flyers held a 5-on-3 edge
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette called timeout when the Flyers had 34 seconds of a two-man power play.
They came up empty on a power play that has failed them down the stretch.
''It's a momentum killer,'' Flyers defenseman Matt Carle said. ''I think it was the turning point.''
It wasn't the only wasted opportunity. The Flyers went 0 for 5 on the power play and missed 11 shots.
The Sabres stuffed the crease and the puck had no chance of finding the back of the net. With the aid of the stout defense, Miller stopped 16 shots in the second period.
''Bob was good. Ryan was even better,'' Flyers center Danny Briere said. ''There will be nights like that. If we keep playing like we did tonight, we'll be in good shape.''
The Sabres got rough to protect their net, with defenseman Chris Butler shoving James van Riemsdyk flat on his back.
''Toughness is being hard on the puck, and getting in front of shots, and that's what we do as a team,'' Kaleta said.
The Flyers could have used some extra protection on the blue line, but they played without Chris Pronger.
Pronger, a former NHL MVP, has been sidelined since having hand surgery in March. He also missed time with a foot injury and was limited to just 50 games this season.
He skated and held a stick during practice this week, but wasn't ready for Game 1. He remains day to day. Pronger has said he's very confident he'll play against the Sabres.
''If Pronger were available, he could be a difference-maker,'' Laviolette said. ''That speaks for itself. But he's not.''
Bobrovsky made the routine saves and covered some tough ones that had to help calm some playoff debut jitters for the Russian rookie. He had 24 saves.
The Flyers came oh-so-close 6 minutes into the game when van Riemsdyk pounded the puck off the post. Miller later stuffed Flyers captain Mike Richards on a backhand attempt and it was already clear that Game 1 would belong to the goalies. Richards played 18:20 a day after missing practice with what he called a head cold.
Both teams had playoff energy to burn. There were a series of scrums and punishing hits that signal playoff hockey - especially in Philadelphia.