Miller, Vanek propel Sabres to game one win

Posted on April 15, 2010 by Patrick Moran

Buffalo Sabres Boston Bruins NHL Playoffs

After 82 NHL regular season games and an unforeseen Olympic run, if you don’t think Ryan Miller is the best goaltender in the sport of hockey today—I truly don’t know what to tell you.

While the rest of his Buffalo teammates forgot you’re required to skate and play in the second period of opening playoff games, Miller stood on his head—stopping 23 of 24 Boston Bruins shots to somehow keep his suddenly lifeless team from getting run off the ice.

Fortunately for Buffalo, by the end of the period Craig Rivet’s scorching slap slot found the upper corner of the Bruins net and propelled the Buffalo Sabres to a 2-1 victory in grabbing game one of the best of seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal in front of a jam-packed, exuberant sellout HSBC Arena crowd.

There were also several thousand fans that watched the game on the big screen in a tent outside the arena.

Yes, Buffalo… Playoff hockey has arrived.

From Miller’s first big save; stopping Miroslav Satan from about 10 feet out less than four minutes into the game, the night was mostly about his typical heroics.

Speaking of recent heroics, Buffalo opened the scoring 4:52 into the game when Derek Roy got around Bruins defensemen Matt Hunwick , picked up speed into the Boston zone and softly dropped a perfect pass to a fast streaking Thomas Vanek, who fired a laser past Tuukka Rask low on his far side.

Going back to the last two games of the regular season, the tally was Vanek’s sixth in his last three games.

He says he’s physically feeling as good as he has all season. He’s certainly performing like it.

“I feel good,” Vanek said. “This is as good as I’ve felt since training camp. The last two weeks before regular season I got good rehab in and I feel good. It’s nice when you can play your game without something hampering it.”

Head coach Lindy Ruff later called him the difference during his post-game press conference.

“I thought he played great,” Ruff said.  “He’s played great since he came back. We need him. We need him to score and that was a real good display by Thomas.”

Aggression and intensity was the key for Buffalo throughout the first as they skated into the first intermission with the game’s only goal.   Patrick Kaleta’s hustle and antagonism created a Boston penalty by Zdeno Chara which nearly ended in all 10 skaters on the ice squaring off, and seven guys take a seat in the penalty box.

For whatever reason and Buffalo better hope it doesn’t become habitual, they came out lethargic for the second.

It eventually cost them a penalty and soon after a tied score.

Toni Lydman took a cross checking penalty at 5:44 to give Boston the man advantage and while on the power play, Miller turned aside Chara’s shot from the point but the rebound came right to a moving Mark Recchi, who buried a shot on the high right side to tie it 1-1 at 9:30.

Boston had outshot Buffalo 15-5 in the second period through 11 minutes, but thanks to Miller and a blast from the Sabres captain, it didn’t make a difference.

Buffalo took the lead for good 2-1 when Rivet took a great set up from Tim Kennedy and buried a slap shot in the top left corner at 14:10 of the second.

“Your best players need to be your best players but at the same time scoring has to come from everywhere.” Vanek said about Rivet’s game winning goal.

“I thought it was a great play by Kennedy and a heck of a shot,” Ruff said.  “Those are answers you need inside a period when things aren’t going well.”

Despite being outshot 24-8 in the second the Sabres maintained a one goal leading heading into the final 20 minutes.

The 24 second period shots by Boston tied a Sabres playoff record for most shots against in a single period.  Chicago pelted 24 shots on Buffalo in a playoff game April 24, 1980.

Coincidentally… or maybe not the Sabres also went on to win that game by a goal.

“I think they sensed a little blood in the second period and really got aggressive and I thought they did a real nice job in our zone,” Ruff said.  “We made some adjustments. I thought we were a lot better in the third.”

Buffalo went 30-0 during the regular season when leading after two periods.  They’re now one for one in the playoffs for the same reason; intelligent play and experience playing with the lead.

Oh, and having Miller helps.

“I think we just do what it takes,” Miller said.  “We played a pretty smart period.  For our group of guys to come out of that second period and every adjustment we could make was great.  We controlled the puck a little more.”

Puck possession, far fewer giveaways and a steady dose of hitting (Buffalo outhit Boston 41-25 for the game) prevented the Bruins from getting more than a small handful of chances in the third.

Satan took a huge delay of game penalty for Boston with only 4:20 remaining to play, putting his team in a major hole in its efforts to tie it up late.

Boston pulled Task over the final minute and a half but couldn’t muster a quality shot on net.  A great hustle play by Mike Grier in the waning seconds drew a Chara penalty in his own zone and put the game away.

Buffalo came back to outshoot Boston 12-6 over the final 20 minutes.

“If we do it right it’s going to be two months of hockey,” Miller said. “We’re not going to have every period go our way.  To have one like that (second period) was a little tense and give up some shots on goal but to respond and get a goal back and hold the lead in the third period in this kind of situation is really positive.”

Winning at home in the first round is hardly a given in these playoffs.  Of the four opening Eastern Conference games over the past 24 hours, Buffalo is the only team to skate out of their own building with a win.  Washington lost to Montreal in overtime tonight while Pittsburgh and New Jersey both fell on home ice Wednesday.

“It is harder,” Ruff said about defending your territory.  “At home you have family and friends and other things that can be a distraction.  When you’re on the road you have more time to focus on the game.”

The Sabres now look to hold serve at home and take a commanding two-game lead when the rivals square off again in Buffalo on Saturday at 1pm.

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