Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ryan Miller confident, eager for playoff challenge

Despite 0-5 finish, Blues goalie ready to stabilize position

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- On the eve of the Western Conference First Round series for the Blues, who will host the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 on Thursday, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock made the following proclamation:

"We're going to need our goalie to be great in this series," Hitchcock said of Miller, who finished 0-5 with a 3.83 goals-against average and .856 save percentage to finish 10-8-1 with a 2.47 GAA and .903 save percentage since being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres.

"He's shown the ability to get into people's heads if he plays the way he can," Hitchcock added. "We're going to need him to be really good, and he's going to be a major factor in us winning this series. Ryan is looking forward to this challenge. He hasn't been around (the playoffs) for a few years and he's really looking forward to getting going. Like any series, you're going to need your goalie to be good, but when you're playing a team like Chicago with the firepower they have, our goalie's going to have to be great. He's going to have to be one of the key factors for our team every night. We're looking forward to seeing how he does."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Ryan Miller is ready to backstop the Blues to what they hope is a deep
postseason run.

When Miller was acquired Feb. 28 along with Steve Ott for a package that included Jaroslav Halak and Chris Stewart, the Blues felt they made an upgrade that would matter when the postseason began. Miller has had a pair of extended runs with the Sabres but hasn't seen the postseason since 2011.

However, the recent struggles which have coincided with the team's six-game losing streak to end the regular season have curbed fans' enthusiasm for bringing in a former Vezina Trophy-winning goalie (2010) as well as a two-time Olympian.

But Miller, 33, who is 25-22 in 47 career postseason games with a 2.47 GAA and .917 save percentage, is looking forward to the opportunity to challenge for a Stanley Cup again. He, like the rest of his teammates, have been able to park the end to the regular season and gear his focus towards the Blackhawks.

"It's a great opportunity anytime you make it and in any position," Miller said. "You see in the last few years what teams have done from different positions, different rankings, and what they've been able to do. I'm just happy for the opportunity. There's challenges in every season, we're facing ours right now. How we're going to react, how we're going to respond. I think it can end up a positive."

Miller has taken accountability for his own actions since he's arrived in St. Louis, good or bad. That's the reputation he carried with himself in Buffalo, too. It's the reason why his Blues teammates are confident in his abilities even following off-nights.

"He gives us a chance to get going and that's what we're going to need some nights and that's what he provides," defenseman Barret Jackman said of Miller. "His rebound control is amazing."

Halak is the Blues' franchise leader in shutouts with 20 and won 83 games in three-plus seasons with the Blues. However, he never got that shot in the postseason after the team traded for him and signed Halak to a four-year contract. Miller was the only guy that was going to supplant Halak this time around. It's his crease now.

"I got along with Jaro so I'm not going to sit here and talk about an upgrade or not, but we like what Millsie brings," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "He's been great for us. His pedigree speaks for itself. His play has been outstanding his whole career. A two-time Olympian, that stuff all speaks for itself. 

"When you put him with the defensive structure that we have, it's only going to mean good things for him. He's obviously been real good for us since he's been here. We're still working through a few things."

The Blues' recent rash of injuries has certainly rubbed off on how only the lineup but also the goalie. This is why Hitchcock hasn't shown any concern with Miller's recent 0-5 record.

"He's just like the rest of our team. Just battle, compete, battle, keep going," Hitchcock said. "You never know who starts in the series and you never know who exits the series. Sometimes a team starts healthy and two games into the series they're missing five guys. And sometimes the goalie that starts off struggling ends up being the savior at the end. You don't know that stuff. 

"As long as you're competing and you keep your head up and keep battling, good things are going to happen. We need to get into something that matters right now. I realize everybody's going to be going, 'Who's in your lineup, who's out of your lineup? What's the roster going to look like?' A lot of these guys are going to be back in. ... He's had some great performances, some performances that probably he thinks he could have played better but I think it's about our team. I think one of the things for a goalie for us right now, with what we've been icing, we'd be hard to play for. We've given up two 2-on-1's, three breakaways ... heck we gave up a 2-on-0 on the power play in Minnesota (recently). We're giving up some scoring chances that are pretty dynamic. I think before we can even talk about how Ryan's playing, we need to clean it up in front. When we get the right focus and right energy, we'll get that cleaned up hopefully."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Ryan Miller (left) was at his best against Vincent Lecavalier and the
Philadelphia Flyers in a 1-0 shootout victory for the Blues. 

The Miller the Blues thought they were getting was the one who absorbed every shot -- 31 of them and three shootout attempts -- in a Feb. 1 game against the Philadelphia Flyers, one the Blues won 1-0. Miller's comfort zone was on full display: let him get involved early and let him see and touch pucks.

"Just get hit with the puck, I guess. Obviously it's been a tough stretch as far as goals-against but I don't feel like I'm in a really bad place," Miller said. "I feel like I'm in a pretty good place honestly. I know people probably will take that and just chop it up and laugh about it, but I feel pretty good. I can compete. I just have to worry about battling and competing. It was going to be the same job no matter what. Once you get to the playoffs, everybody's at zeroes, so compete.

"I think we have a good group of guys and we've done a good job all year and this is our test. I think we passed this test, I think our confidence will be higher than it was before and that's kind of what you need."

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