Iain MacIntyre: Ryan Miller braces for thriller in Red Hell

 

Risk and reward: Passionate goalie, excited to be back on the ice after knee injury, knows he doesn’t have to be perfect tonight — he just needs to compete, fight and win

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks Ryan Miller warms up against Calgary Flames.
 

Vancouver Canucks Ryan Miller warms up against Calgary Flames.

Photograph by: Steve Bosch, PNG

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It looked for a short time like Ryan Miller’s sole contribution to this playoff series would be chirping Michael Ferland as the Calgary Flames’ wrecking ball was escorted past the Vancouver Canuck bench after the brawl near the end of Game 2 last Friday. Even doing that, Miller surprised us.

I mean, Miller is built like a three-iron and was wearing a ball cap when he pointed at the pit bull Ferland and inquired: “Who are you?”

Apparently, Ferland was not intimidated by the goalie who looks like one of Dr. Sheldon Cooper’s nerdy physicist friends from The Big Bang Theory. The Canucks, by now, know all about Ferland. But the Flames are suddenly finding out about Miller, too.

So are we.

Brought in to relieve playoff starter Eddie Lack while the Flames were taking a 3-1 lead in the National Hockey League series, Miller started and won Game 5 on Thursday by stopping 20 of 21 shots in a 2-1 Canuck victory at Rogers Arena.

Miller will be working again without a safety net tonight in Calgary in Game 6.

Back when Miller was signed to a three-year, $18-million-US free-agent contract last summer, nobody thought he would appear from the bullpen in the Stanley Cup tournament. Much of Miller’s season, including the Feb. 22 knee injury that ceded the starting role to Lack, has been a surprise. But Miller, himself, has been the bigger surprise.

Yes, he is fastidious about his equipment and his position, and his deep thoughts on work do get in his way sometimes. But the 34-year-old American has been starkly different than the thumbnail sketch we had of him: a talented, but moody introvert who was hyper-sensitive to criticism and allergic to the media.

His thoughtfulness, patience and passion were evident again Friday when he spoke for 15 minutes to reporters about the cauldron he has been thrown into.

“If you want to accomplish anything, you have to put yourself out there,” Miller explained. “This is definitely one way to do it. You’ve got to put yourself out there and take risks in life to do anything. You risk taking criticism, you risk a lot of different things — your reputation and all. You’ve got to have a willingness to do it.

“Making the playoffs is not easy anymore. So any chance you get at this time of the year, you have to just embrace it and put yourself out there and give it your best. It makes me drop the perfectionism a little bit. I don’t have to be perfect; just go and compete.

“It’s not about timing, not about the physical side of things. It’s all about mentality: Can I get in the fight and how long can I stay there?”

On facing a Calgary crowd as hostile as its team in a Saddledome coloured red, like hell, Miller said: “We’re in a Canadian city, playing where they appreciate hockey. They want Calgary to win, but I think they appreciate hockey.

“Ultimately, it’s not really about worrying about the crowd. It’s about enjoying the moment. It’s pretty cool to get that many people together and excited about hockey to the point where they really want you to mess up. Celebrate the sport. You’ve got to sit back and kind of appreciate that people love hockey that much and you’re the one out there who gets to play the game.”

Canuck captain Henrik Sedin admitted he has been surprised by Miller’s personality and engagement with teammates.

“As far from selfish as you can get,” Sedin said. “When he talks, everyone listens. He’s been really, really good.”

Hank wasn’t talking about performance, but Miller has been good on the ice as well, going 29-15-1 in the regular season with six shutouts and a .911 save rate.

Miller’s experience impacts Canuck confidence but, Sedin said, the Flames’ confidence, too.

“I believe as an offensive guy that when you’ve faced a goalie and had some success, then all of a sudden you have a big star in there who has won a lot of games ... it creeps into your mind,” he said. “They faced Eddie, who has been good. Then all of a sudden they see Ryan Miller, who has been in playoffs and Olympic finals and won a Vezina Trophy. I think it means more to Calgary to see him.”

Miller said playing Stanley Cup elimination games is like playing medal-round games at the Olympics. He took Team USA to the 2010 final in Vancouver before losing the gold-medal game 3-2 in overtime to Canada. Miller was named the top player in the greatest hockey tournament ever staged.

“The whole back half of the Olympics is one (loss) and you can’t play for the gold medal,” Miller said. “It’s a similar feel. It’s a tournament feel. Regular season is kind of a grind; this is a different kind of race.”

It’s a game like tonight for which the Canucks signed Miller, and for which he came. He wanted to experience playing in Canada, where his grandfather was born and where he has many relatives. The environment tonight at the Saddledome will be different than anything Miller has experienced.

“For me, it’s about wanting to be in that game and wanting to be in the mix,” Miller said. “The idea is you stay ready and stay prepared because you don’t know what’s going to be thrown your way.”

imacintyre@vancouversun.comTwitter.com/imac

 
 
 
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Vancouver Canucks Ryan Miller warms up against Calgary Flames.
 

Vancouver Canucks Ryan Miller warms up against Calgary Flames.

Photograph by: Steve Bosch, PNG

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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