It was a bittersweet time here at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York tonight. Fans of the Buffalo Sabres were treated to some special promotions and contests thanks to Fan Appreciation Night, all of which helped lighten the mood a little bit . . . but floating above everyone’s heads was the realization that the 2012-2013 season was coming to a disappointing close, with no playoffs in the Sabres’ future for the second straight year. Add to that the fear that this may have been Ryan Miller’s last game in goal for the blue and gold, and what you have, my friends, is something akin to having a party at a funeral.
A PARTY THAT NEVER ENDS, since this darn game went the distance, twice, before ending in a 2-1 shootout win for your Buffalo Sabres.
The evening began, fittingly enough, with Ryan Miller being awarded the MVP award for the Buffalo Sabres this season. If it turns out that tonight was, indeed, the final game that Miller will play as a member of the Sabres, how perfect that his career concluded with being handed the team MVP award on the same night that he played his 500th game with the Sabres, the only NHL team he has known so far in his career. Can you imagine how Miller must have felt as he took the ice tonight, with all of those conflicting emotions swirling inside him? I can, and it goes something like this: BARFFFFFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t know how the man made it through all of the pregame stuff without yakking up his dinner, much less managing to play an entire game, plus overtime, PLUS a shootout – but he did, and in doing so he left us with one more great memory of an all-time great AMERICAN goalie.
Miller earned tonight’s first star award, stopping 30 shots, and all three of the shots he saw in the shootout, to earn his 269th career win. As has been the case all season, he faced more shots than his opposition, and made key save after key save to keep a Sabres team that struggled to find ways to put the puck in the net in the game. With the exception of maybe earning a shutout, I can’t think of a better way for Ryan Miller to end his career as a member of the Buffalo Sabres, if that is what comes to pass.
Lest you think this post is all about Ryan Miller – and lest you make me use the word “lest” again – it’s not! If Miller represents Buffalo’s past, then players such as Brian Flynn and Mikhail Grigorenko represent Buffalo’s future, along with all of the other kids that took the ice tonight. Flynn scored the only goal for the Sabres tonight, wristing a shot over Evgeni Nabokov‘s shoulder after receiving a beautiful pass from Thomas Vanek. For his effort, Flynn was awarded by being named tonight’s second star. Grigorenko, meanwhile, did not score – but certainly not through a lack of effort, as he led all skaters in shots on goal with six tonight and managed to earn the third star of the evening. The youngster from Russia showed some great speed on a few rushes, and really made the most out of his increased workload (14:34 of TOI), which only makes me bring up the question I raised last week – what took so long for the Sabres to play this kid?
But we’ll have time to dissect what the Sabres did wrong, and what they did right, in the offseason. For now, let’s celebrate another milestone reached by a fantastic goalie, and be glad that we were all a smart part of some history being made tonight. Congratulations, Ryan Miller, and good luck to you next season, whatever may come!