Examining Ryan Miller’s track record in playoff elimination games
For many casual American sports fans, Ryan Miller became a borderline household name when he nearly carried the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Even though he “settled” for a better-than-expected silver medal, Miller captivated budding hockey fans and went on to have a great NHL season in 2010-11, earning his first career Vezina Trophy in the process.
So there’s no doubt that Miller is considered elite on just about every level, but he still can add to his legacy by putting together another deep playoff run. Last season’s first round loss to the Boston Bruins was a bit of a disappointment, so I figured it might be interesting to take a glance at how the 30-year-old player has done in playoff elimination games.
(Keep in mind that there might be an empty-net goal here or there, but for the most part, final scores are fairly indicative of his/the team’s performances.)
2005-06 run: Fourth-seed Buffalo Sabres
First round: Miller allows one goal against the fifth seeded Philadelphia Flyers, giving Buffalo a 4-2 series win. (1-0)
Second round: Miller helps Buffalo take a 3-0 series lead over the first seed Ottawa Senators. After a 2-1 loss, Miller helps the Sabres win the series with a 3-2 overtime win. (2-1)
Third round: The Sabres ended up losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes (second seed) in a great seven-game series. Buffalo won Game 6 but fell to the Canes in Game 7. (3-2)*
Miller finishes the 05-06 playoff run with a 3-2 record in elimination games.
2006-07 run: First-seed Sabres
First round: Miller only needs one game to close out the eighth-seeded Islanders as Buffalo wins Game 5 4-3. (4-2)
Second round: Once again, Miller and the Sabres close out their opponent in the first opportunity, thanks to a 5-4 win against the sixth-seed Rangers in Game 6. (5-2)
Third round: The fourth-seeded Senators ripped through the East that year, beating Buffalo in five tidy games. They knocked Miller and the Sabres out in their second chance thanks to a 3-2 OT win. (6-3)
Miller finishes 06-07 run with a nice 6-3 record in elimination games.
The Sabres didn’t make the playoffs in the 07-08 or 08-09 seasons.
2009-10 run: Third-seed Sabres
First round: Down 3-1, the Sabres managed to fight off elimination once. The Bruins knocked them off 4-3 in Game 6, though. (7-4)
So, overall, Miller in 7-4 in elimination games.*
Update: That 7-4 record comes with little-to-no low moments. Even in games the Sabres lost, Miller never allowed more than four goals. No doubt about it, he’s a trustworthy goalkeeper in big games.
He frequently puts together great performances and hasn’t had a profoundly awful one (at least on paper?). The takeaway from that is pretty simple: the Flyers need to outplay the Sabres because Miller is unlikely to make it easy for them with a bunch of soft goals.
Now, that doesn’t mean that the next two games are guaranteed to follow that trend. As we’ve seen with these sometimes bizarre playoffs, a lot of strange things can happen.
That being said, don’t blame Buffalo if they feel very comfortable in an area of serious uncertainty for their first round opponents. Chances are, if someone lets the Sabres down, it probably won’t be their franchise goalie.
* - Thanks to commenter Chris Ostrander for clarification about a couple late series results for the Sabres.