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Miller aims for 200th win ; Buffalo faces another road-weary team

Ryan Miller, back in his emotional early years, treated every victory as cause for celebration and every defeat as another step toward Armageddon. The revelry in the wins and the angst of the losses has subsided through his maturation process, with the Buffalo Sabres goaltender not putting as much thought into the daily ups and downs of his win-loss record.

It's easy to see, then, why he had no idea he was on the cusp on a significant victory. Miller earned his 199th win Tuesday, and a victory at home tonight against Florida will make him the 67th goalie in NHL history to hit 200.

"Oh, I guess I didn't know," Miller said with a surprised look Wednesday. "It's pretty special. As you come up through the ranks, you're just happy to play in the NHL. Every win is amazing.

"As it stretches out a little ways, I guess you don't really expect when you're younger to be around that long. You just want to get your chance. I feel I'm fortunate to be in the net enough to have a chance to reach 200 wins. It's a pretty cool milestone."

There are 11 active goaltenders who've reached the milestone, with the most recent member of the club sitting next to Miller in the Sabres' dressing room. Backup goalie Patrick Lalime earned his 200th victory last season. The only team to have a pair of 200-game winners sharing its crease was the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings, who had Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek.

"It shows a lot," Lalime said. "He's 30 years old. He's at the prime of his career right now, and he's playing great hockey. I'm looking forward to being a part of this. It's a huge accomplishment."

Miller, who debuted in 2002, has compiled a record of 199-114-37 during his eight seasons, including the last six spent as the Sabres' No. 1. Miller won 41 games last season and 40 during the Presidents' Trophy run of 2006-07.

"Looking back, I've been very fortunate in my career to have had some good teams here," Miller said. "We made good pushes, so I'm definitely happy."

The younger goaltenders reaching the milestone have had the benefit of shootout victories since 2005-06. Miller has 30 wins in the extra session, which is part of the reason is he on the cusp of 200 much quicker than Lalime. It took him 11 seasons.

Miller and the Sabres would take a victory any way they can get it tonight. The matchup in HSBC Arena is their final one before the Christmas break. They'll either open their presents on a two-game winning streak or as a team that's lost four of five. There's obviously no comparison.

"We've got to keep getting points," said Miller, who is 12-10-3 this season.

His worst outing came six days ago against the Panthers. He lasted just 20 minutes, pulled after allowing four goals in a 6-2 loss. Miller says the team has rectified the problem.

"There were some major things that popped up in our system where it was a little bit of teams watching our other games," he said. "We'd found a little bit of success, and as you start to rely on those tendencies teams will notice that and will play against it. You have to adjust again.

"We relied on the middle without realizing there was more pressure. They had a lot more guys filling the center of the ice. They had guys pressing on our centerman, who is usually our deep support. That makes it hard. You've got to work around it, spread the ice out. We just had to build it so we could skate together and more. It showed up a lot better the other day."

The Sabres trounced weary Anaheim, 5-2, Tuesday, taking advantage of a team that was playing on back-to-back nights, ending a run of five games in seven days and using its backup goalie. It could be more of the same tonight.

Florida played Wednesday in Pittsburgh and is closing a road trip consisting of three games in four nights. Tomas Vokoun played against the Penguins and could give way to backup Scott Clemmensen. Eleven of the Sabres' 14 wins have come against second-string goalies.

If they get another, Miller gets to join an exclusive club.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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