Ryan Miller makes Buffalo a Cup contender

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NBC Playoff Coverage

Game 2: Boston Bruins at Buffalo Sabres (Buffalo leads series 1-0)

Live on NBC at 1:00 PM ET

The other day, the subject of the league’s best goalies came up and I couldn’t help but realize that – at least in this moment in time – it is difficult to make an argument against Ryan Miller being the gold standard in net. Roberto Luongo and Evgeni Nabokov are struggling. Goalies such as Craig Anderson seem like they need to put together another great season or two before they can be considered among the league’s best.

So, perhaps that leaves Ryan Miller alone as the league’s best goalie. Maybe. Either way, Miller’s jump from “very good” to one of the league’s best gives his team their first sniff of true contender status since the exodus of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury.

Whatever way you slice it, the Team USA hero is crucial to the Buffalo Sabres’ under-the-radar run at their first ever Stanley Cup. While I’ve brought up the fact that Sabres’ offense has been stealthily hot to finish the season, there is no doubt that the team’s hopes truly start and stop with Miller.

Miller was the best player in Thursday’s 2-1 win for Buffalo. He managed to put up a stunning 38-save performance, only allowing one goal during a desperate 24 shot run at one point by the Bruins. Overall, Miller put up a no-brainer Vezina trophy season; he had career bests with a 41-18-8 record with a 2.22 goals against average and a 92.9 save percentage.

Most of the talk out of Boston centers on the Bruins’ befuddled attempts to fill the net. Judging from Miller’s season and Game 1 output, there may not be many answers for Boston in this series. (Of course, saying that, Miller will surely be jinxed as the two teams put together an improbable goal buffet in tonight’s afternoon NBC game.)

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    Report: Connor McDavid undergoing concussion protocol

    DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 23:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on November 23, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche 6-3. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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    Connor McDavid is going through the league’s concussion protocol, according to multiple reports during Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Wild.

    Per Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun, McDavid was ordered to undergo the protocol after falling to the ice when he got tangled up with Jared Spurgeon. As McDavid fell to the ice, his face hit hard and he appeared in immediate discomfort.

    McDavid held the NHL lead with 34 points in 26 games coming into Sunday’s contest.

    More to come.

    The Flyers have won five straight and Steve Mason has been solid in goal

    Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason reaches up to make a glove save against the Colorado Avalanche during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Denver. Philadelphia won 4-2. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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    The goaltending in Philadelphia has been talked about plenty this season, mainly because it had struggled.

    That is only until recently, even with Michal Neuvirth still out with an injury.

    The Flyers are on a five-game winning streak, reaching the mark with a 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Sunday. Wayne Simmonds had a pair of goals and he now has six points in his last six games.

    Ivan Provorov had a productive, two-goal game on Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks.

    But goaltending has been much better for Philly as of late.

    Steve Mason has been in net for four of the last five wins and he’s given his team the goaltending it needs to have a chance for those victories. Take his first win in this stretch: He faced 47 shots against the Bruins and stopped all but two of them.

    He didn’t face the same workload Sunday against the Predators but he was still busy, particularly in the third period as Nashville pushed for the equalizer.

    He stopped 30 of the 32 shots he faced. In his last four games, he’s allowed only seven goals and no more than two in a game. That save percentage — recently at an ugly .892 — has started to improve. It’s still at .904, which isn’t great. But better than a week ago.

    That’s solid goaltending.

    And right now, the Flyers are on a roll.

    “For me, it’s really the last nine or 10 games. Some of those games, the results didn’t come… games 8, 9 10 ago,” said coach Dave Hakstol.

    “But we were playing really complete games. There’s a time or two in a game where the momentum goes against you, but the bench stays strong and they just go out there and try to push the momentum back our way.”

    Video: Gaudreau scores in return from injury — and this goal was a softie

    Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau celebrates his goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Friday, March 13, 2015, in Calgary, Alberta. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)
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    Welcome back, Johnny Gaudreau.

    The Flames forward returned to the lineup Sunday, after missing 10 games with a finger injury. He scored on his very first shift, on his very first shot of the game.

    It’s a goal Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonathan Bernier would probably want back.

    Gaudreau picked up the puck after briefly losing control and casually fired it toward the net from inside the faceoff circle. It made it’s way through Bernier, who wasn’t screened on the play, giving Calgary an early lead.

    Nielsen admits there were ‘some butterflies’ in return to Brooklyn to face Islanders

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 04:  Nick Leddy #2 of the New York Islanders checks Frans Nielsen #51 of the Detroit Red Wings during the first period at the Barclays Center on December 4, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    NEW YORK (AP) Frans Nielsen admitted he’ll have “some butterflies” when he faces the New York Islanders for the first time since leaving for Detroit as a free agent last summer.

    “For sure it’s not going to be just another game,” Nielsen said Sunday about three hours before the Red Wings faced the Islanders at Barclays Center. “There’s going to be some butterflies for me and some nerves. Hopefully it just gonna take a couple of shifts and I can relax and play my game.”

    The 32-year-old Danish center was drafted by the Islanders in the third round of the 2002 draft, No. 87 overall, and had 119 goals and 230 assists over 10 seasons in New York before signing a six-year, $31.5-milion deal with Detroit.

    Nielsen, one of three players to leave the Islanders in free agency along with Matt Martin (Toronto) and Kyle Okposo (Buffalo), says he wasn’t looking to go elsewhere, but began exploring other options when talks with the Islanders stalled.

    “It wasn’t an easy decision,” he said. “I don’t have anything bad to say about anything here. It dragged out for some reason and got to a point where I got a chance to talk to other teams and kind of realized it might be fun to get a new challenge and try something new.”

    So what does he cherish most about his time in New York?

    “A lot, from playing the first game to scoring the first goal,” Nielsen said. “The first playoff series I was in against Pittsburgh (in 2013). The (Nassau) Coliseum, just how loud it was. I don’t think I’m going to experience that again. To winning a round last year. All the friendships, all the people you met not only with hockey, but away from the rink. … One-third of my life I lived here, so lot of stuff you miss about (not) being here, too.”

    Nielsen said it felt `weird’ flying into town Saturday night after Detroit’s loss at Pittsburgh, and then staying in a hotel nearby. When he arrived at the arena, he saw former teammate Johnny Boychuk by the player’s entrance and jumped in his car for the `two-minute ride’ down to the parking level.

    The Red Wings were in the market for a new center after former star Pavel Datsyuk decided to end his NHL career and return to Russia. Nielsen has fit right in with his new team, totaling six goals and eight assists in 25 games.

    “I love him,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s got inner drive to be great. He’s selfless, he does what it takes to win for the team. He’s an all-around player who plays in most situations for us, penalty kills, power plays, can go up against other teams’ best players. … He’s got lots of experience, he’s a leader-type person. There’s no question he brings a presence just by with the way he handles himself and the type of teammate he is.”

    With the Red Wings remaining in town overnight before flying out to Winnipeg on Monday, Nielsen expected to spend time with some of his former teammates after the game.

    “The friendship you build up with all these people over the years,” Nielsen said. “We had some really tough times and a lot of the guys went through the tough times here where we weren’t winning. Just going from that to building a competitive team, you just build a special bond when you go through that.”