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Miller's rant after defeat says it all

It was around this time a year ago, after an overtime loss in Carolina, when Ryan Miller accused his Sabres teammates of playing like a bunch of "fragile little kids."

Who's fragile now? Miller had a day to forget Sunday, allowing seven goals in a perplexing 7-6 overtime loss to the Islanders at HSBC Arena. Then the veteran goalie acted like an aggrieved child in the face of some mild questioning in the dressing room afterward.

Here's the offending question, the one that set Miller off. "Did you feel OK?" asked John Vogl, the News' beat writer.

"John, I feel fine," Miller replied. "I don't even know why you're going down that lane. Do I feel fine? What does that mean? What are you implying?"

My God, the guy gives up seven goals and turns it into a Spanish Inquisition. Maybe Miller got tired of fighting the puck and decided to take on the media instead. No one asked if he needed a break after starting his 31st consecutive game, or insinuated that he should throw his defense under the bus.

Miller was seething and frustrated, that was clear. It was hard to blame him. The Sabres had blown a two-goal lead at home against one of the worst teams in the NHL. They kicked away a chance to win a fourth straight game for the first time all year. They gave away a precious point in the playoff chase.

The worst thing of all, of course, was that the Sabres lost the goaltending battle to a crippled Islanders team that was down to its fifth and sixth goalies. Mikko Koskinen, who was pulled after giving up four goals, was playing in his fourth NHL game; Al Montoya in his sixth.

What I'm implying, I suppose, is that this was quite possibly the worst loss of Miller's NHL career. It was also the low point of a season that has seen Miller go from Vezina Trophy winner and Olympic hero to a run-of-the-mill netminder.

The Sabres wasted another hat trick from Drew Stafford, his league-leading fourth. They did get a point, making them 12-4-2 over their last 18. But a loss like this makes you wonder if they have what it takes to sustain a playoff run -- or more to the point, to actually win a round if they get that far.

This team isn't good enough to make a run if Miller isn't playing at a high level. He's now 31st in the league in goals-against average at 2.78. Miller has allowed four or more goals 13 times this year. He gave up four or more goals in a game just seven times last season.

But we're not supposed to ask if he feels OK on a day when he couldn't save a stamp? The standard is high, maybe too high, but that's what happens when you've been anointed, however briefly, as the best goalie in the world. Expectations soar. Questions are asked.

Lindy Ruff said he probably should have pulled Miller after the third or fourth goal. But Ruff said he has seen his team rally around Miller before on an off night. Ruff can usually find a way to talk himself out of using backup Patrick Lalime, who hasn't started a game since November or won a game since last March.

The pertinent question is, why not sit Miller on occasion? Maybe the burden of playing every game is beginning to wear on him mentally. Doesn't the organization have some responsibility to employ a backup the coach isn't afraid to play?

The Sabres have blown two-goal leads three times during their 12-4-2 streak. The Islanders scored five goals on 11 shots over the last 24 minutes. He said only one of the goals was a bad one. Funny how the opposing shooters have all turned into Mike Bossy this season.

Earlier this season, Miller admitted he wasn't in the same comfort zone as a year ago. He said he wasn't quite in top shape after being slowed by injuries. That was two months ago. He should be fine. Maybe he was defensive Sunday because, at this point, there are no more excuses.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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