Ryan Miller has received a lot of abuse during his decade in Buffalo, especially during the past few years as the Sabres tumbled from the rank of contender.
“They just want to see the team win,” Miller said of the fans Friday after an embarrassing 8-4 loss to the New York Rangers, “and we haven’t done it. We haven’t lived up to any kind of expectation. It’s been years and years of not getting it done.
“You don’t win over Buffalo fans by losing hockey games and putting up mediocre seasons. The last three years have been pretty much that.”
The fans’ mocking of Miller reached a possible tipping point as the Sabres were officially eliminated from playoff contention. After an uneventful 18 minutes, Buffalo’s season and Miller’s night rapidly self-destructed.
New York scored two goals in 57 seconds off the skates of Buffalo defensemen to stun the Sabres and the crowd of 19,003. Less than 10 seconds remained in the first period when the Rangers casually dumped the puck toward Miller. The fans let loose with a mock cheer when he stopped it.
“Yeah, I heard it,” backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth said. “I thought it was pretty embarrassing.”
As the fans derided him, Miller gave them a reason to do so. He whiffed on his clearing pass, Ryane Clowe collected it and put the Sabres into a crushing 3-0 hole with just 3.2 seconds left.
“It’s one of the worst mistakes I’ve made my whole time here, worst time,” Miller said.
The Sabres scurried to the dressing room with boos filling the air. The foul atmosphere continued in the opening 100 seconds of the second period as the Sabres’ playoff dreams died.
Miller, who’s been in the organization since 2002, had a moment reminiscent of Patrick Roy’s final game in Montreal just 28 seconds into the period. He stopped another dump-in and fired it toward the boards with authority. As the crowd again gave a Bronx cheer, Miller waved to the patrons as played continued – much like Roy did during a humiliating game in 1995 that featured him asking for a trade immediately after getting pulled.
“If they want to mock me for two bad bounces, fine,” Miller said. “They can mock me after that horrible play. They made sure to do it in the second period, and that’s fine.
“If they can dish it out, they can take that. I sat there and took it.”
Unlike Roy, who walked directly to his team’s general manager after finally getting pulled in a 12-1 blowout, Miller didn’t seek out Darcy Regier when he got yanked for allowing the fourth goal 1:13 into the second. But Miller wouldn’t mind following Roy’s post-debacle career path of winning two championships.
“It doesn’t mean I want to leave,” Miller said, “but if that’s what you’re getting at, the guy won two Stanley Cups after, so hey, why not?”
The Sabres and their fans have had a tempestuous relationship throughout the disappointing season, with both sides showing anger toward the other. Several players joined Enroth in feeling Miller was treated unfairly as the third goal unfolded.
“It’s very disrespectful after what he’s done for Buffalo, what he’s done for this team, this organization and this city,” defenseman Adam Pardy said. “It [ticks] you off when you hear that. He’s been great all year. We’ve had wins when we’ve had no business winning games. The reason was Ryan Miller.
“To hear that is just absolute disrespect for what he’s done for this organization.”
The fans cheered Miller’s departure after the fourth goal. He walked down the hallway toward the dressing room, then sat at the end of a bench a short time later wearing a baseball cap.
The change in goalies didn’t change the Sabres’ luck. Enroth allowed a goal on the first shot he faced, which came just 27 seconds after he replaced Miller. The Rangers totaled five goals in a span of just 2:58, franchise records for both clubs for fastest five goals scored and allowed.
The Rangers built a 6-0 lead before Cody Hodgson and Nathan Gerbe scored six seconds apart, giving the most faithful of die-hards a glimmer of hope that a rally was possible. Instead, New York took leads of 7-2 and 8-3 before Buffalo defenseman Mark Pysyk finally ended the scoring with 40 seconds to play with his first NHL goal.
The Sabres were supposed to play in Pittsburgh today, but the Penguins are playing in Boston because their Friday night matchup was postponed by the successful manhunt for a marathon bombing suspect.
The Sabres’ next game is Monday at home against Winnipeg, and they’ll visit Pittsburgh on Tuesday. They close the season at home Friday against the New York Islanders.
They play all three games as a team that’s officially looking toward next season.
“Two go off a skate, they did the mock cheer, and another one goes in,” right wing Drew Stafford said. “It just kind of snowballed from there.”