Ryan Miller, dressed impeccably in his suit, nonetheless looked out of sorts. He was missing a sock and a shoe, and it was immediately obvious the Buffalo Sabres would be missing their franchise goaltender.
Miller is out of the lineup indefinitely after suffering a left ankle sprain during the Sabres' 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Saturday.
"It's stiff and it's tender," Miller said after limping to his locker stall in HSBC Arena. "These are things you have to kind of feel out. There's no timetable, really. It's your comfort level.
"Right now I just want to get through the night till the morning and see how my body reacts. I've had a few ankle sprains in my time, and each one's been different. We'll see how this one plays out."
The injury happened 1:54 into the third period. Miller went behind the net to retrieve a New York dump-in, and Scott Gomez chased the puck. As Miller played it around the boards, Gomez crashed into the netminder's right leg, simultaneously twisting the opposite ankle.
Miller, who had stopped all 20 shots sent his way, immediately hit the ice and had to crawl to the crease. He stayed on one knee while talking with athletic trainer Tim Macre and didn't put any weight on his left leg while gliding to the bench.
"These are things you just can't say right off the bat," Miller said. "Especially as a goalie, you have to get back in shape where you can flex your ankle and use it and play 100 percent."
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff didn't hide his anger for Gomez.
"I don't think there's any secret it was deliberate," Ruff said. "He knew what he was doing."
Gomez pleaded innocent.
"I lost an edge, and we ran into each other," Gomez told The Buffalo News after hearing of Ruff's comments. "If it was that bad, I think a penalty is going to be called. As long as I've been in the league [nine seasons], I don't think I have a reputation of going after goalies.
"The last guy I'm going to go after is the Team USA goaltender," continued the Alaska native, who figures to be teammates with Michigan's Miller at next year's Olympics. "It's not me. Hey, that's his opinion. He's entitled to one, but it's too bad because he's someone in this league I definitely respect as a coach."
Miller hadn't seen the replay but assumed the contact was accidental.
Miller, third in the NHL with 29 victories, gave a high-five to replacement Patrick Lalime on his way out of the game. Ruff gave Lalime the keys to the crease.
"Patty's a good goalie," Ruff said. "We'll get him up and running, and whatever length of time [Miller is out], we need to play in front of Patty. He's worked hard all year long, and we've got to play in front of him. He was a good starter. I think when you get in a starting role and get rhythm, it's a lot easier than playing every five, six games."
The injury cast a pall over an impressive showing by the Sabres. They moved into a three-way tie for sixth place with the Rangers and Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference.
"It was a very important game for us," Ruff said. "After losing to Carolina in our building [last Sunday] . . . it's a game if we want to make a serious bid in moving up the standings, we needed to win."
The Sabres took command late in the first period, keeping the puck away from their net and putting it into New York's.
Daniel Paille opened the scoring, but it was first-star Derek Roy who made it happen. The center skated into the New York zone, hit the brakes to allow defenseman Michal Rozsival to slide by, then fed Paille in the slot with 4:10 to go.
The Sabres went to the dressing room for the first time with the arena buzzing, as Andrej Sekera doubled the lead with 1:20 left.
While the Sabres were scoring, the Rangers weren't even coming close. They went 11:38 without a shot as the Sabres tilted the ice. Colton Orr took a slap shot with 6:08 left in the first period, and the scoreboard operator didn't have to touch New York's shot button again until Brandon Dubinsky's attempt with 5:30 gone in the second.
Roy scored the third goal with 6:18 left in the second to complete his three-point night.
Gomez gave the irate fans more reason to boo him by creating a goal only 28 seconds after Miller went to the bench. But Jochen Hecht made it 4-1 to keep the Sabres on track.
"I'm disappointed that I had to leave the game, but I was proud of the guys," Miller said. "We sucked it up."