Ryan Miller will be the presumptive starter Wednesday night when his Buffalo Sabres host the Boston Bruins. If he does get the nod, it will equal his first confrontation with Milan Lucic’s team since a Nov. 12 collision with the power forward rendered him out of commission for three weeks and nine games.
As such, the visiting Bruins will need to be ready to repress a concoction of motivation and momentum in the Buffalo net. The sooner they begin to fluster Miller’s endeavor to exact a little retribution on the scoreboard, the sooner they can officially make the Miller-Lucic rematch a minor detail.
Silencing the local audience might not be possible in this particular meeting, but the fans will not be able to help much if Boston instills some self doubt to the recently streaking Sabres.
Even if Miller and his skating mates decide that 88 days and one other meeting on the eve of Thanksgiving are enough to let bonus bitterness subside, the masses at First Niagara Center will doubtlessly enhance their vocal support for the franchise goaltender. That will come in a twofold manner between cheers for Miller and jeers directed at Lucic.
Not that Miller needs much in the way of incitement these days, for he happens to be in the midst of logging his best stretch of performances to date this season. Seeing every possible minute of action in the Sabres' last four games, he is 3-0-1 with five goals against and recorded his second shutout of the season, which salvaged a point from a 1-0 shootout loss to the New York Rangers.
Before that bout with the top-dog Blueshirts last week, Miller posted a .964 save percentage in back-to-back outings, making for his two most efficient outings since mid-October. The Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils could only penetrate him on one of 28 registered stabs.
And most recently, this past Saturday, Miller withstood his third-heaviest workload of the season repelling 35 out of 38 shots en route to a 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders.
The Bruins, meanwhile, have only just rekindled their collective scoring touch, brushing aside 3-0 and 2-1 falters to Carolina and Pittsburgh with an assertive 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Sunday. It marked the first occasion since Jan. 12 that Boston seized the initial lead, extended it to 2-0 and stayed at least one stride ahead of their adversary until the final horn.
Head coach Claude Julien figures to roll out the same realigned depth chart he unveiled on Sunday as the Bruins shoot for their first pair of consecutive wins in nearly four weeks. Buffalo, on the other hand, will vie to improve on its opening-frame results en route to a five-game unbeaten run.
Miller conceded a multi-goal first period in Saturday’s bout with the Islanders, who took a 3-1 lead into dressing room at the 20-minute mark. He rapidly recovered and turned away each of 20 shots over the remainder of regulation, plus a whopping nine in the five-minute overtime before polishing off New York in another shootout.
An early, multi-goal pothole should be tougher for Miller’s mates to surmount, however, if it is Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask rather than Al Montoya safeguarding it in the other cage. Regardless of how much emotion the Buffalo buffs are harboring Wednesday night, the Bruins can render their noise irrelevant by overwhelming and penetrating Miller and daring a cold Sabres’ top six to recompense.