PHILADELPHIA – Ryan Miller’s highs during Buffalo’s seven-game Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against Philadelphia were very high indeed. The lows, however, were crushing.
Miller posted 1-0 shutouts in Games 1 and 4, making him only the third goalie in franchise history to post two shutouts in one series – he joins Bob Sauve (1983 vs. Montreal) and Dominik Hasek (1994 vs. New Jersey). But Miller was also victimized by 21 goals in the five other games, and the Flyers won four of them.
The bottom fell out Tuesday in Game 7 during a 5-2 defeat in Game 7 at Wells Fargo Center when Miller was pulled from a playoff game for the first time in 47 appearances.
"It's just a lot of disappointment right now," said a dejected Miller, surrounded by reporters after the game. "We didn’t get off to the start we wanted to and that's what happens when you don't step on a team's throat when you have a chance. We had our opportunity to end this series (in Game 6, a 5-4 overtime loss) and we didn't do it and they came back."
Backup Jhonas Enroth replaced Miller 1:59 into the third after last year’s Vezina Trophy winner was beaten by Ville Leino – giving Philadelphia four goals on 28 shots. It certainly wasn't the ending Miller envisioned.
"(Sabres coach Lindy Ruff) thought I did a good job in net and told me not to worry about it," Miller said. "I wasn't real thrilled with the fourth goal. It was a pretty smart shot by Leino. He hesitated and crossed me up but it still wasn't a goal I wanted to give up."
Ruff admitted relieving Miller had nothing to do with his game.
"I just felt that Jhonas had been a part of getting us to this point and he needed to experience a little bit of this," Ruff said. "I thought if he could give us a save or a little bit of energy we could fight our way back. It had nothing to do with Ryan's game. In that case you are looking for the opportunity and I actually thought we scared them for a second, but we didn't have enough."
Leino’s bad-angled blast from the left circle forced Ruff to make the goalie switch, something the Flyers were more accustomed to doing throughout the course of this series – they became the first team since 1988 to win a series while starting three goaltenders.
Miller was the only reason the game was scoreless heading into the final half-minute of the first period. The Flyers pulled out all the stops, entered the Buffalo zone with relative ease and had a net presence unlike anything Miller had seen in the previous six games.
"I don't know, they came strong and I think we were a little hesitant," Miller said. "I thought we were working through it and they were lucky to get out of the first period with a lead. We almost got away with that first period and if we did, it would have been a different game."
Miller stopped everything the relentless Flyers threw at him until Braydon Coburn’s snap shot from the right point deflected off the glove of Buffalo forward Mike Grier in the slot and trickled past Miller with 18.5 seconds left, capping a period that saw the Flyers outshoot Buffalo 16-2.
"It just changed direction on me just a bit," he said of Coburn’s goal, a shot that Grier reached for and wound up deflecting past his own goaltender. "I was playing it into the corner and it ended up diving down off of something. I thought we were going to get away with that first period and it was a tough bounce.
“You know, we played a pretty good second period and they got two good bounces; one just sat there perfect for Danny (Briere), it didn't get through and sat there on his tape. (James) van Riemsdyk tips in (Claude) Giroux's. They got pucks to the net and they got the bounces and, unfortunately, we couldn't get anything going until the second and didn't cash in until the third."
As a result, Miller and the Sabres are still in search of their first playoff series triumph since 2007, when they beat the New York Islanders and Rangers to make the Eastern Conference Finals.
"A lot of young guys got some good experience," Miller said. "But chances don't come around as often as you think so you have to take advantage. What hurts the most is we had our chance (in Game 6). We had a lead in the third period in our building and we didn't get it done and that's the series."
The Flyers appreciated the effort Miller gave in getting the undermanned Sabres into a Game 7.
"He played unbelievable for them the whole series," forward James van Riemsdyk said. "I think he stole a couple for them, and the whole team battled pretty hard. It was one of those things, at the end of the game, where it seemed like the puck just seemed to be going in, and we finally seemed to get a couple by him."
Ruff, the only coach Miller has ever had, also appreciated what his goaltender accomplished.
"Miller has brought a lot to our team," Ruff said. "We had a lot of respect in what Ryan can do for us. If you look at where we have been and where we have come from, Ryan has always been a big part of it."
"Miller was Millsy," said Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers. "He kept us in a lot of games and a lot of situations this whole series. I can't say enough about the guy, he was great for us."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale