Ryan Miller heard the news before suiting up Monday night and knew his options were limited against the Philadelphia Flyers: He could either mope about being left off the U.S. Olympic team, or he could show the Americans what they'll be missing come February.
Evidently, he made the right decision. But did the USA?
Miller was superb in his first start since Oct. 28 and held the Buffalo Sabres together long enough for them to win their ninth straight road game and seventh straight overall. The nine straight road victories are one shy of the NHL record, set by the Sabres in 1983-84, and matched by St. Louis in 2000 and New Jersey in 2001.
The Cardiac Kids' latest heart-pumper was a 2-1 shootout victory over the Flyers with Max Afinogenov providing the decisive goal. It came in front of 19,572 in the Wachovia Center.
"I only had a couple thoughts the whole game," Miller said after making 33 saves. "It's just the ice and the puck. I owed it to the guys to keep that mind-set the whole time and not get away from it. I've been thinking about this for a month."
Once again, the Sabres were in trouble but rallied to win. It's often been the case lately. They have won 10 straight games that were decided by a goal. They have played six straight games decided by a single tally -- all victories.
The Sabres are 15-1-1 over their last 17 games. Buffalo will spend two days in Florida before playing the Panthers on Thursday night and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday. Who's going to play goal Thursday night? Take your pick. With this team, it doesn't seem to matter.
"We seem to dig down and find a way to win, especially with such a young team," captain Chris Drury said. "It seems like we have no fear. We're down one on the road against a real good team. We find a way to get two points."
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff made a curious decision in starting Miller. Martin Biron had won 13 straight starts, a franchise-record streak that started when Miller was sidelined with a broken thumb. Ruff thought Biron looked weary over the weekend against Pittsburgh and decided to play Miller, his No. 1 goalie to start the season.
"I thought there was fatigue in Marty's game," Ruff said. "You're pushing the envelope because you want to keep on going. We had a fresh guy sitting there. It was an easy decision.
"I would have been very sour going in the other direction if we lost."
Miller clinched the latest victory when he poked the puck away from Mike Knuble, chosen for the U.S. squad by the way, in the shootout, but that save seemed easy compared to what Miller did during regulation and overtime. Nothing like having more than seven weeks off and getting reacquainted with the NHL by facing 34 shots over 65 minutes and an extended overtime.
"I'll take every second of that game," Miller said.
The Sabres would, too, if guaranteed the same result. The Sabres were trailing by a goal in the shootout and down to their third shooter when Tim Connolly scored on a neat backhander to give his team a chance. Miller followed with a sliding save on Jonathan Sim, which allowed the Sabres to breathe again.
Afinogenov faked Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki into the Delaware River before sliding the puck into the open side before Miller stopped Knuble to secure the victory. Miller allowed only Peter Forsberg's goal in the shootout.
"He played outstanding," Connolly said. "He kept us in the game the whole time. He had some great rebound saves. In the shootout, he's just so tough to beat on breakaways. I know that from experience."
Paul Gaustad forced overtime when he buried a one-timer 7:12 into the third period after Afinogenov wheeled down the left wing and found him in the slot.
Knuble banged home his own rebound in the first period after a feed from Forsberg.
The Sabres wouldn't have been anywhere near overtime if not for Miller. He stopped Sami Kapanen on a partial breakaway with 2:50 left in the third period after Toni Lydman coughed up the puck. With 30 seconds remaining, he sprawled across the crease and pounced on Forsberg's pass with Kapanen parked on the far side with an open net.
"I wasn't that sharp," Miller said. "I was a little shaky early. I didn't play the puck very well. These are things I have to work out. I felt more comfortable getting into the third period in tight games and playing for the boys here. They've been on a tear. I wanted to show that I wanted to be a part of it, too."