Niagara Gazette

Sports

April 30, 2006

COMMENTARY: Miller gets credit, but team stole the shutout

Game 5: Sabres 3, Flyers 0

BUFFALO — You hope your goalie can steal you one in a seven-game series. Looking at the Sabres’ 3-0 matinee victory in which Ryan Miller made 24 saves, you’d assume this was the one.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Sabres played one of their best games of the season — limiting second shots, choosing plays along the boards rather than up the middle, and getting little guys to outbattle bigger ones — in taking back command of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal at HSBC Arena on Sunday.

Ken Hitchcock put it best:

“Their tenacity controlled this game.”

To put it bluntly, the Sabres stole one for Miller.

To borrow a line from Billy Packer, after R.J. Umberger’s softy in Game 4, the Sabres seemed more determined to keep Philly from getting any good looks.

Other than a shot that hit the shaft of Miller’s stick, he wasn’t forced to make a spectacular save. By the time he had to make even a significant one, the Sabres had already peppered Robert Esche with 14 shots and taken a 1-0 lead.

Granted, the bounces were bad in Philly. Pucks deflected differently, seemingly finding black and orange jerseys, and consequently, the back of the Sabres’ net.

But Umberger’s goal could have been devastating. It could have forced Miller into a shell that Rochester American fans saw in playoffs past.

It could have taken the hard work of a series — and season — and thrown it into the Niagara.

Instead, guys like Brian Campbell and Dmitri Kalinin started doing more than getting in the way by, um, getting in the way. Each had a pair of blocked shots. Tim Connolly, the guy we used to joke about, was soft as custard, led the team with three.

Lindy Ruff knew it. The Sabres played a patented Ruff-style game — making good decisions on defensive pinches and working hard down low to keep the puck in the opposition’s zone. It’s the same game plan the team used in running to the Cup final in ‘99.

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