Ryan Miller isn't an Olympian.
He's sure performing like one, though.
In fact, he's playing even better.
The fans who jammed HSBC Arena showered the Buffalo Sabres goalie with chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" while they watched him backstop his team to a 4-2 victory Thursday night over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Miller made 21 saves against the Eastern Conference's best road team, with both goals coming off bad breaks. Taylor Pyatt, Brian Campbell, Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville scored for the Sabres in their first home game in three weeks.
"He made some unbelievable saves again tonight where he got a piece of the puck and kept us in the game and then kept the lead," Hecht said of Miller.
The crowd of 18,690 provided a charged atmosphere and gave the Sabres a sellout for the eighth time in nine games. The only time they didn't pack the place they fell only 658 fans short.
The patriotic chants for Miller began after he made a big save late in the second period while the Flyers were trying to build off some power-play momentum. The chants were repeated after he made more monumental stops in the third to keep the Sabres ahead.
"It was a real neat feeling," Sabres defenseman Jay McKee, a Canadian, said of the chants. "I can just imagine how it felt for Ryan. It almost gave you chills.
"He's played great. He's been a huge part of what we've accomplished here. I felt real good for Ryan to hear the fans do that. I'm real proud of our fans for coming up with that and rallying behind what he's doing in the net."
At the other end of the ice was Robert Esche, one of the three netminders selected to represent the Red, White and Blue later this month in the Turin Games.
Miller is 4-0 when going head-to-head against U.S. Olympic goalies Esche, John Grahame of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders. He's also 2-0 against the Atlanta Thrashers, whose general manager, Don Waddell, selected the U.S. roster.
Overall against those four teams, including games against non-Olympic keepers, he is 9-0.
"I think he wants to prove that he could have been that guy," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's only human nature to show, when that guy on the other end is one of them, that 'I want to be better than him.' There's nothing wrong with that. It's motivation for Ryan that maybe next time around he will be that guy."
Miller, who has deflected much of the Team USA controversy as if he were participating in a bantam shootout, was diplomatic when asked about the chants.
"It feels good for the fans to show their support," Miller said. "But I think they were trying to get Eschey, too. You know, playing both sides. It was flattering, but I'm still supporting our boys when we go over there."
The Sabres dominated the game for the most part, especially at the beginning.
Even though the score was tied at the first intermission, the Sabres had outshot the Flyers, 16-3. The only Sabres forwards without a try on Esche were Maxim Afinogenov, Derek Roy and Andrew Peters.
The Flyers still took the first lead on a pinball shot from Simon Gagne. He accepted a pass from below the goal line and shot from the right hash. The puck hit the left post and would have bounced out if it hadn't ricocheted off Miller's skate with 7:28 left in the first period.
"It just kind of rattled around," Miller said.
Pyatt tied the score with 4:38 remaining in the first, less than a minute after Campbell thought he scored but actually hit the post. Campbell finally did break through with his ninth goal, 5:24 into the second period.
Hecht scored his 14th goal on a fluke with 7:42 to go in the second period. Esche couldn't glove Hecht's shot, and the puck fluttered above the blue paint before landing in front of Philly forward Mike Knuble's skate and bouncing in.
Knuble got the Flyers within a goal with 3:20 left in regulation. Miller wandered out to the bottom of the right circle to clear the puck along the boards, but Knuble batted it down and fired into the vacated net.
"That's unfortunate, probably the only mistake [Miller] made all night," Ruff said.
Pominville scored his 12th goal into an empty net with 7.1 seconds to play.