BUFFALO – Even after Ryan Miller’s scintillating, career-best 49-save performance in the Sabres’ 2-1 shootout victory against the Washington Capitals, the goalie wouldn’t vouch for a spot on Team USA’s Olympic squad.
“It’s not up to me,” the humble Miller, who also stopped all six Capitals in the shootout, said Sunday inside the First Niagara Center.
The United States’ entry for the upcoming Sochi Games will be named following Wednesday’s Winter Classic outdoor game in Ann Arbor, Mich. Not surprisingly, Miller is expected to be one of the team’s three netminders, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Miller, who brilliantly backstopped the Americans to a silver medal in 2010, said he hadn’t heard about the report.
“I got nothing, boys,” he said. “So I’d say that’s a little bit jumping the gun. I’ll check my messages. I haven’t heard anything. We’ll have to see in a few days.”
Mark it down: Miller will not only be on the team, the 33-year-old will almost certainly be its starter.
Despite all the Sabres’ struggles this trying season – heck, they only sprinkled 17 shots on Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer – Miller’s still one of the NHL’s best goalies.
Sunday’s dynamic performance might’ve been the best of his 528-game career.
“He better be the starting goalie for the Olympics,” Sabres center Tyler Ennis said.
Interim Sabres coach Ted Nolan added: “It’s the first thing I said to him right after the game, ‘Pretty good game.’ I tell you that was worth the price of admission to watch a goaltender like that.”
The 33-shot deficit was the largest for a win in franchise history.
Against the high-powered Capitals and 30-goal sniper Alex Ovechkin, Miller kept the Sabres in the game as they got outshot 15-3 in the first period.
The Sabres’ first shot – Matt D’Agostini’s with 4:26 left in the first period – drew a loud Bronx cheer from the capacity crowd of 19,070 fans.
“We played OK as a team,” Nolan said. “We played as well as we could tonight. Once in a while you’re going to need your goaltender to steal one, and tonight he stole one.”
Miller looked in control throughout, smothering almost every shot.
“Imagine if he had given rebounds,” Nolan said. “They might’ve had over 100 shots. His rebound control, his whole game, you could tell he was tuned into it very early.”
Miller was at his best during the six-round shootout. Following Steve Ott’s sixth-round goal, he stymied Mike Green to secure the Sabres’ fourth win in six tries.
What was Miller thinking as Green zoomed in?
“Miss,” he joked. “I didn’t want any of those guys to become shooters. I wanted to challenge them a little bit, not make the first move.”
Miller challenged Ovechkin, lunging at him as the slick winger approached. Incredibly, Ovechkin had six first-period shots (more than the Sabres as a team) and 12 overall, but couldn’t score for the third straight game.
“I wanted to surprise him,” said Miller, who’s 3-0-0 in games in which he’s faced 50 or more shots. “I didn’t want to give him a chance to do what he wanted to do.”
Drew Stafford opened the scoring on the Sabres’ 10th shot 18:18 into the second period. The Capitals, meanwhile, had 30.
“Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many shots you take; it’s how many goes in,” Nolan said.
The Capitals’ 33rd shot – a perfect one-timer from Troy Brouwer in the left circle – beat Miller over the right shoulder 5:34 into the third period.
That was all they would get, though.
“He’s the best goalie in the league, and I don’t say that lightly by any means,” Ott said about Miller. “I really think that. He keeps us in there, especially tonight. The team didn’t steal the game, Ryan Miller stole that game for us.”
Miller did allow that he’d be a pretty good fit for the U.S.
“I think with my experience in tournament play, I think I’ve been pretty good in tournament play in my career, starting back in juniors and college,” he said. “So those short sequences where you get into a week and a half, two weeks, I’d like to think it’s something they value as an asset.”