BUFFALO, N.Y. – With a smile and a wave to the crowd, Anaheim Ducks goalie Ryan Miller left the ice in Buffalo a winner for perhaps one last time.
“Yeah, the fans in Buffalo have always been great,” Miller said, acknowledging the cheers he heard in being introduced as the starter, and the more that followed when named the game’s third star in a 3-2 win Sunday.
The 39-year-old goalie spent his first 11 seasons in Buffalo. He expressed a hint of regret in knowing he won’t be in town Thursday when the Sabres honor members of the 2000-09-decade teams as part of the franchise's seasonlong 50th anniversary celebrations.
“I’m actually going to miss that group of guys who are going to be here in a few more days,” he said, referring to many of his former teammates.
“I’ve got a little FOMO,” he said, referring to the phrase of having a fear of missing out. “There’s a lot of guys on that list I’d like to be back with them in Buffalo.”
Whether it was the familiar setting or the victory that moved the former Michigan State standout into a tie with Mike Vernon for 15th on the NHL list, Miller was in a reflective mood at the end of a five-game road trip.
“I guess when I look back, I never would’ve expected to be on a list like that or playing this long, so I try to appreciate the opportunities, and it’s been fun,” he said.
As to how much longer he intends to keep playing, Miller gave no hint. And it made no difference when reminded he’s only four wins shy of matching Dominik Hasek—– the starter he eventually replaced in Buffalo — and how close he is to 400.
“Yeah, it’s a nice round number. But I’m going to have to play longer to see where we get to after the next couple of months,” he said. “I still enjoy it. And I still think I can play some hockey. But I’m starting to evaluate more about how my body feels, and am I able to do it at a high level.”
Miller showed few signs of age in stopping 31 shots, including all 15 in the third period, to improve to 7-5-3 in a season in which the Ducks have fallen out of playoff contention and are retooling an aging roster.
First-year coach Dallas Eakins praised Miller for how he has handled the switch to a backup.
“There’s zero arrogance with him, there’s zero entitlement with him, and I think that could come real easy to somebody who’s been in the game as long as him,” Eakins said of the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner and goalie who played a significant role in helping the U.S. win a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Eakins credited Miller for the time he's spent mentoring the team’s youngsters.
“That’s not something that was encouraged by me. He’s done that on his own,” Eakins said.
“We’ve leaned on him. He’s got great experience in the game, and he’s somebody that I personally listen to a lot,” he added. “He’s had an amazing career, and one I hope for him that keeps going.”
Defenseman Michael Del Zotto hasn’t seen Miller lose a step despite long stretches between starts.
“Every opportunity he’s in net, we have a chance to win,” he said. “He brings his best game, and that’s a credit to his work ethic.”
Miller hasn’t lost his desire. That was evident when he recalled Friday night's 5-4 loss at Toronto in which he made 30 saves. John Tavares decided the outcome, scoring on a power play with seven seconds left in overtime.
Miller was looking forward to the challenge matching up against the likes of Auston Matthews and a Maple Leafs’ lineup of snipers in a shootout.
“Really would have liked to have done that, so that was disappointing,” Miller said, before reflecting on his win over Buffalo. “So this is a nice bounce back.”
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