USA Hockey knows everything it needs to know about Ryan Miller. Just to be sure, Miller put a record-setting night on his resume a few days before the organization names its Olympic squad.
Miller stopped 55 of Washington’s 56 shots to lift the Sabres to a 2-1 shootout victory Sunday. Buffalo’s goaltender wowed the sellout crowd in First Niagara Center with 44 saves in regulation, five in overtime and another six in a perfect shootout.
“It feels good when they stay out and you get a win like that,” said Miller, who is a lock to be selected to the 2014 U.S. team Wednesday. “We’ll find out in a few days. It’s a selection that I don’t have much say in other than my performance. That’s evaluated, and we’ll see how it goes.”
It should go from the ice in Buffalo to the starter’s crease in Sochi.
“Olympics or not, you know that he’s going to play like that no matter what,” Sabres right wing Drew Stafford said. “He’s motivated just to get back to playing how he can play. He’s done a heck of a job so far.”
Miller improved his save percentage to .927 on a night when he was needed more than ever. The Capitals outshot the Sabres, 50-17, the biggest disparity for a Buffalo victory in team history. The 33-shot disadvantage topped the 31-chance margin during a 7-5 win over Boston on March 21, 1971, when the Bruins had a 56-25 edge.
Miller’s 49 saves were a career high, and he improved to 3-0 when facing 50 or more shots.
“That was worth the price of admission to watch,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “Very rarely do we get to see it live. He was sensational.”
Troy Brouwer was the only one to beat Miller as the consistent Capitals took 15 shots in each of the first three periods. Buffalo managed just 16 shots in regulation, including three in the first and five in the third.
“He stole this one for us,” defenseman Henrik Tallinder said. “He was awesome. Some shots were a little bit from the outside, but the chances they got he was right there. Unbelievable game for him.”
Stafford and Steve Ott supplied the little help that Miller needed. The shots were 30-10 when Stafford opened the scoring with 1:42 left in the second period. Ott beat Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer on Buffalo’s sixth shootout attempt.
“What he was doing all night, you want to finish out a game and have him win,” Ott said. “He was by far the best player on the ice for both teams. You can only hope to win that one when it comes to shootout time.”
Miller made sure the Sabres stayed on a hot streak. They’re 5-2-2 in their last nine games. They’ve won four in a row at home and have points in six straight downtown, the first time they’ve accomplished both since March 2012.
“We’re not exactly counting, but at the same time it’s one of those things where it’s just fun to win,” Stafford said. “Most of the time when you take care of things and keep it simple that leads to wins, and it has for us recently.”
The Capitals wasted little time showing Miller it would be a busy evening. They opened a 10-0 shot advantage through 9:30, which included six shots during one really busy power play.
“You could tell he was tuned into it very early,” Nolan said. “When he’s on, I don’t think there’s much better.”
Grubauer couldn’t match the early perfection. Stafford scored on the Sabres’ 10th shot, tipping a shot from Christian Ehrhoff as Buffalo hit the second intermission ahead for only the fourth time in 39 games.
Brouwer tied it with 14:26 left in regulation, but that was it as the 19,070 fans sent Buffalo onto the road for Tuesday’s game in Winnipeg with a standing ovation.
“I want to have a good night every night,” Miller said. “As the years go by I seem to play best when I don’t really react too much. I’m just trying to dial my emotions down and bring my focus up.”