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BLANK SLATE; Miller stirs the fans with second 1-0 victory

Two standing ovations weren't enough. The Buffalo crowd had been awed to the point where mere applause seemed insignificant.

So, during a television timeout with 5:03 remaining Wednesday, the crazed folks in HSBC Arena starting chanting at the top of their lungs, the foot of Washington Street shaking as it hadn't all season.

"Ry-an Mill-er! Ry-an Mill-er! Ry-an Mill-er!"

The Sabres' goaltender deserved it. For the second time in four games, Miller blanked the Philadelphia Flyers, backstopping the Sabres to another 1-0 victory. He made 32 saves and sent the teams to the City of Brotherly Hate for Friday's Game Five all tied at 2-2.

Miller provided a resounding answer to anyone who questioned his worth to the Sabres' organization.

"It's good to be appreciated," Miller said. "I'm happy to help the team get a win. I'm not going to pay too much attention to anybody who's talking about my game right now. I really don't care. It's the furthest thing from my mind. I want to contribute and help the guys.

"I don't need to listen to all of the BS that's out there from people how don't know how to play goalie. I really don't give an expletive."

Miller's top save and Philadelphia's best scoring chance surely left Danny Briere muttering a profanity or two. It was a Buffalo fan's dream.

A turnover led to Briere getting the puck alone in front with 8:50 left, no one around but the former Sabres co-captain and his old netminder. Briere avoided Miller's poke check and moved to the goalie's gloveside. The glove won, snaring Briere's attempt as the 18,690 fans rose in unison to salute the goalie's excellence.

"I was happy to be there to make the save," Miller said. "I kind of recognized he didn't have a lot of speed, obviously, because of where he received the puck. He was just trying to get me to open up, and I just wanted to get my glove as close to my blade as I could. It wasn't so much a reaction as it was anticipation that he was going to try and get it over me."

Miller's second standing ovation led to the chant, immediately after he put his stick along the goal line to prevent Mike Richards from tying the game.

"It got the crowd going even more than what they already were," Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers said. "Guys on the bench were standing up on that one. It definitely picked our team up, and the way he played is typical Millsie.

"It was a good feeling to hear them go with that chant. For Millsie to pull off a save like that and to bring the crowd to their feet with not much time left in the game, it boosted our team and created a lot of energy for us to battle that one out."

Miller and his teammates showed the fans and the Flyers that their team would punch and play until someone tells them they can't anymore.

Miller earned a second-period roughing penalty with Philly agitator Daniel Carcillo. The goalie then watched as Paul Gaustad, Nathan Gerbe and Myers had a glove-shedding scrum with Richards, Kimmo Timonen and James van Riemsdyk after the final buzzer.

Gaustad punctuated the pugilism by waving his arms to the crowd, exhorting them to rally around the team that has made this series a best-of-three.

"The passion and the energy in this series has been really good," Gaustad said. "They push, we push: It happens."

The Sabres, who led for just 14:48 during the first three games, spent two days talking about striking first. The Flyers are stellar at holding leads, and their counterattack is damaging to teams that gamble in an attempt to come back.

Buffalo's focus led to a 1-0 advantage, jacking up the energy in a fan base that entered the building full of excitement.

The Sabres used a three-pass sequence to open the scoring and leave Philly goaltender Brian Boucher with no chance. Defenseman Chris Butler dumped the puck into the corner to Tyler Ennis, and the slick winger quickly sent a no-look pass to Rob Niedermayer at the side of the net. The center's pass across the crease went directly to the stick of cage-crashing Jason Pominville.

His tip-in with 9:38 gone brought the fans to their feet with their white pompoms in the air.

"We did a great job of establishing the lead," said Miller, who had a 35-save performance during Game One's 1-0 victory. "We stuck to the game we needed to play against these guys."

The goal was the most tangible sign the first half of the period belonged to the Sabres. They rocked the Flyers with six hits in the opening 2:47, with Mike Grier and Patrick Kaleta bringing the fans joy and Philly pain.

"We went after it," Gaustad said. "We didn't hold back. We initiated a lot of things."

They also finished, getting a victory that has them ready to fight for at least two more games, including Easter Sunday afternoon at home.

"It was a war when we left Philly, and it will be a war when we get there," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It will be a war when they come back here. That comes with the ante being up, when you get later in a series and emotions really start running hot."

Said Gaustad: "We're not going quietly. This is a series. It's going to be a battle every game. We're just going back to Philly now, try and get a win."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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