Being a winning NHL goalie two nights in a row is tough. Posting two shutouts in the process is positively rare.
But Thursday, Ryan Miller became the first goalie to post shutouts on back-to-back nights since...Ryan Miller. He last accomplished the feat in December of 2010.
On Wednesday, he carried his Buffalo Sabres to victory by stopping 43 shots against an Anaheim Ducks team that faced almost certain elimination (seven points out with five teams ahead of them for the final playoff spot and just 18 games to go), in Southern California.
Thursday, his team traveled up the coast to play a San Jose Sharks team almost as desperate. Conventional wisdom had Jhonas Enroth in net, but the NHL's longest-tenured coach (14 seasons), Lindy Ruff, knew what his team needed to continue to close in on a playoff spot of their own.
Miller is 5-0-2 in his last seven games. Because of his play, Buffalo is now just two games back of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The 2010 Winter Olympics MVP has been in net for 18 straight contests. Four of then were on the second of Buffalo's 21 back-to-back contests on the season—most in the NHL. In those four games, he has allowed just six goals in regulation.
Thursday, he survived an onslaught by the Sharks.
At the end of the first period, which would best be described as tight, Tyler Ennis read a Brent Burns entry pass perfectly and created a three-on-two rush. Once in the Sharks' zone, he passed the puck to Drew Stafford, who put a slapshot home with 1:09 left to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead.
The Sharks took over from there, out-shooting the Sabres 11-4 and 17-5 over the final two periods. They had two moments where it looked like they had scored, and they rang the iron of the cage twice more. They even had a three-on-one with just over nine minutes left, but Miller poke-checked T.J. Galiardi's pass harmlessly away.
In fact, the Sharks dominated the stat sheet. Rarely does a team that wins more faceoffs (31-27) also have a better giveaway/takeaway differential (plus-one vs. minus-three) and more hits (24-14). It is almost unheard of for a team with better than a 2:1 shot ratio to block five more shots than their opponents.
With just one goal in two games without Logan Couture, it is clear the Sharks are a different team with him sidelined. He is listed as day-to-day after taking abuse all game long (without a response from the Sharks) in the last game of the road trip in Minnesota.
At this time of the year in the NHL, day-to-day could mean he will be back the next game or out most of the month. (You would think a league that suffered from the biggest gambling scandal in a generation would require more transparency on injuries to avoid improprieties as the NFL does, but that is a subject for another time.)
The Sharks will need him on Saturday when they host the best defensive team in the league, the St. Louis Blues.