If you didn't already, you probably know who Ryan Miller is now ... the 2010 Winter Olympics tournament MVP who brought the United States within one goal of the gold medal.
The hoopla surrounding Miller thrust him in the spotlight like never before. It's not every day that an NHL player is interviewed by Matt Lauer on a nationwide broadcast of "The Today Show," as happened to Miller shortly after returning from Vancouver.
But what awaited him in his first NHL game after the Olympic break was downright strange and wonderful at the same time. Though not in the starting lineup, Miller, Buffalo's No. 1 goaltender, was cheered by the Pittsburgh home crowd at Mellon Arena during pre-game introductions. The mention of Miller's name drew a bigger reaction than that of Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, the player who scored the gold-winning overtime goal for Canada against Miller that fateful day in Vancouver, hours before the closing ceremony.
"It was surreal. Usually they want to tell you that you're not a very good player. But they use other language," Miller said.
"Pittsburgh has very loyal fans, and it makes sense that they're just as loyal to their country."
"Ryan Miller largely has been lauded as the NHL's best goalie this season and he long has been beloved in Buffalo, where he stars for the Sabres," wrote Michael Russo in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "But after his tremendous play wearing the red, white and blue, Miller certainly has become a household name inside the United States."
All the national attention only made it seem like Miller recently burst on the NHL scene. Truth is, he's been stopping pucks and leading the Buffalo Sabres since his NHL debut on Nov. 19, 2002 (Did the date surprise you?). It's just that the Olympics were the grandest stage Miller has ever played on, and garnered him the most attention.
"Beating that Canadian team and then taking them to overtime for a silver medal, I think we did do something very positive," Miller said in the days following the 3-2 overtime gold medal-game loss on Feb. 28.
"You have to put yourself out there and do great things, and sometimes it doesn't quite work out."
On a team scale, yes, Miller and his United States teammates fell short of their ultimate goal. But on an individual level, Miller was the brightest star of the 276 players in Vancouver, being voted the Best Goalkeeper and Tournament MVP.
"Ryan Miller was the best goalie of the tournament," U.S. defenseman Erik Johnson said. "He was our best player every game."
It was the best success Miller had since leading the Sabres to back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference Final in 2006 and 2007, the latter being the last time Buffalo has played in the postseason until now. After helping the Sabers win the Northeast Division title, Miller has his team even with Boston through two games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, with Game 3 on tap Monday (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC).
Earlier in the day, Miller was named a finalist for the 2009-10 Vezina Trophy as the NHL's most outstanding goaltender. He was second in goals-against average (2.22) and save percentage (.929) -- both career bests -- third in saves (1,948), fourth in wins (41) and shots faced (2,098), tied for seventh in games (69) and shutouts (5), and eighth in starts (68). Miller established a single-season franchise for victories, and won at least 30 games for the fifth straight season.
A long run into the playoffs would be a joy for Miller, but it would also prolong what has been a very long season already. He appeared in 69 of 82 regular season games, and started all six Olympic contests for the U.S., playing all but 11 minutes and 31 seconds.
"I have to recharge myself. Other guys had a two-week break, and I didn't have it," he said before returning to the Sabres from Vancouver on March 2. "I'm going to have to find a lot more couch time, DVR and Netflix. Hopefully keep that battery charged enough to get through the playoffs, because there's another prize out there and this time silver isn't so bad."
If he wasn't already, Miller is an unquestioned elite goaltender in the NHL, and that makes the Sabres a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Contact Rocky Bonanno at email@example.com