Iain MacIntyre: Ryan Miller’s return to practice good news, but untimely

 

Boost for bench: As new dad Miller tries to shake rehab rust in Winnipeg practice, steady Eddie focuses on Jets and playoffs

 
 
 
 
For the first time since tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee on Feb. 22, Ryan Miller practised with teammates Friday ahead of the matinee today against Winnipeg.
 
 

For the first time since tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee on Feb. 22, Ryan Miller practised with teammates Friday ahead of the matinee today against Winnipeg.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, Vancouver Sun

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WINNIPEG - The Vancouver Canucks’ locker-room was nearly empty after practice on Friday, and the most persistent members of the media herd were still grazing on Ryan Miller when Eddie Lack, impeccably dressed except for one unshod foot, returned to his stall.

“Millsy, do you have my shoe?” Lack asked, tired of someone’s prank.

“No,” Miller said. “I would never do that, bud.”

Serious and analytical, if Miller ever thought it was funny to hide someone’s shoe the idea probably passed sometime during kindergarten.

Miller didn’t take Lack’s shoe, which miraculously turned up. But he could take his job. Actually, Miller will take Lack’s job. The question is when, but it’s an incredibly sensitive stage of the National Hockey League season to be asking it.

For the first time since tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee on Feb. 22, Miller practised with teammates Friday ahead of the Canucks’ matinee today against the Winnipeg Jets.

Genuinely supportive of each other, the two goalies are together again, but in the reverse order from when Miller began a six-week injury absence that allowed Lack to flourish and Miller to be a 24-hour-a-day dad to his son, Bodhi, who was born in Vancouver on March 20.

After helping the Canucks not only survive the injury crisis that included Miller but push them forward in the playoff race, Lack will start in net today for the 18th time in 20 games. With the Canucks facing a daunting home game against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday, it’s almost inconceivable that Miller, his knee rehabbed without surgery and in a brace, could start then after only a couple of practices.

After Monday, the Canucks have just two regular-season games remaining before the playoffs and, as coach Willie Desjardins noted Friday, they still haven’t clinched anything.

The goaltending situation is more untimely than awkward.

“It’s not the best for lots of different reasons,” Desjardins said of trying to re-integrate a goalie after a major injury. “We’ll just have to see how the year goes and we’ll have to make our decisions as we go along.

“(Miller is) a ways away, obviously. It’s the first time he has skated with us. I don’t know how long that would put him away. Maybe a week, I’m not sure. But it was real good to see him on the ice and get a skate in.”

A week from now the Canucks will have one game left before, they hope, starting the Stanley Cup tournament. Even if Desjardins can afford to give Miller a trial start, could the goalie be reinstated as a playoff starter after a single test run?

Obviously, how Lack plays between now and then is the biggest factor after the strength of Miller’s knee.

“I kind of talked with Rollie about that today,” Lack said, referring to goaltending coach Rollie Melanson. “The focus is on tomorrow’s game and what I can do. I can’t really focus on all the noise outside and everything like that.

“Obviously I want to play. But it’s that time of the season, too, and I’m a team player. If the coach makes another decision, it’s something I have to live with and support my teammates. I’m here to help the Canucks win, and whether that’s in the net or on the bench, I’ve got to do my best to help the group.”

Lack, 27, has gone 10-5-2 as the fill-in No. 1, posting a goals-against average of 2.51 and a .921 save rate. The Canucks have built a five-point “cushion” in the playoff race, up from a single point on Feb. 22.

“I think he’s done a great job,” Miller, 34, said. “As a partnership here, we talked at the beginning of the year that we were going to have some fun. We were both going to play important games at different times and were going to have to support each other. He’s done a great job. It hasn’t been an easy situation for him to step into. And I’ve enjoyed the fact it looks like he has made strides and become a better goaltender over the course of the year.”

Signed last summer to a three-year, $18-million-US contract to start for the Canucks, Miller now has the benefit of the enhanced life perspective that becoming a new father brings. He said his wife, actress Noureen DeWulf, is doing great, and the couple have had lots of help with their baby from family members.

“Noureen and I both are trying to get back on track (with our careers) and we’re trying to get a baby on schedule,” Miller said. “Family’s been a big help. Her mom’s been a big help so far and my mom tags in on Sunday. We’ve got the tag-team approach going on.”

Miller said his wife may return to work in the summer. Miller has been skating for 2½ weeks, practising in a controlled environment in goaltending equipment for the last week. But it’s at least possible that DeWulf could be back in a starring role before her husband.

“For me, being a goaltender missing that amount of time, there’s a lot of things to work in like timing and endurance,” Miller said. “I want to be at my best to give the guys a good option. I don’t want to be a liability out there, so I want to make sure everything is good.”

And if there isn’t time in the next week to achieve all this and Miller is asked to support Lack in the Stanley Cup tournament, could he do that?

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s why we’ve gotten this far.”

imacintyre@vancouversun.comTwitter.com/imacvansun

 
 
 
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For the first time since tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee on Feb. 22, Ryan Miller practised with teammates Friday ahead of the matinee today against Winnipeg.
 

For the first time since tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee on Feb. 22, Ryan Miller practised with teammates Friday ahead of the matinee today against Winnipeg.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, Vancouver Sun

 
For the first time since tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee on Feb. 22, Ryan Miller practised with teammates Friday ahead of the matinee today against Winnipeg.
Eddie Lack has gone 10-5-2 as the fill-in No. 1, posting a goals-against average of 2.51 and a .921 save rate.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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