Examining Ryan Miller’s track record in playoff elimination games

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For many casual American sports fans, Ryan Miller became a borderline household name when he nearly carried the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Even though he “settled” for a better-than-expected silver medal, Miller captivated budding hockey fans and went on to have a great NHL season in 2010-11, earning his first career Vezina Trophy in the process.

So there’s no doubt that Miller is considered elite on just about every level, but he still can add to his legacy by putting together another deep playoff run. Last season’s first round loss to the Boston Bruins was a bit of a disappointment, so I figured it might be interesting to take a glance at how the 30-year-old player has done in playoff elimination games.

(Keep in mind that there might be an empty-net goal here or there, but for the most part, final scores are fairly indicative of his/the team’s performances.)

2005-06 run: Fourth-seed Buffalo Sabres

First round: Miller allows one goal against the fifth seeded Philadelphia Flyers, giving Buffalo a 4-2 series win. (1-0)

Second round: Miller helps Buffalo take a 3-0 series lead over the first seed Ottawa Senators. After a 2-1 loss, Miller helps the Sabres win the series with a 3-2 overtime win. (2-1)

Third round: The Sabres ended up losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes (second seed) in a great seven-game series. Buffalo won Game 6 but fell to the Canes in Game 7. (3-2)*

Miller finishes the 05-06 playoff run with a 3-2 record in elimination games.

2006-07 run: First-seed Sabres

First round: Miller only needs one game to close out the eighth-seeded Islanders as Buffalo wins Game 5 4-3. (4-2)

Second round: Once again, Miller and the Sabres close out their opponent in the first opportunity, thanks to a 5-4 win against the sixth-seed Rangers in Game 6. (5-2)

Third round: The fourth-seeded Senators ripped through the East that year, beating Buffalo in five tidy games. They knocked Miller and the Sabres out in their second chance thanks to a 3-2 OT win. (6-3)

Miller finishes 06-07 run with a nice 6-3 record in elimination games.

The Sabres didn’t make the playoffs in the 07-08 or 08-09 seasons.

2009-10 run: Third-seed Sabres

First round: Down 3-1, the Sabres managed to fight off elimination once. The Bruins knocked them off 4-3 in Game 6, though. (7-4)

So, overall, Miller in 7-4 in elimination games.*

Update: That 7-4 record comes with little-to-no low moments. Even in games the Sabres lost, Miller never allowed more than four goals. No doubt about it, he’s a trustworthy goalkeeper in big games.

He frequently puts together great performances and hasn’t had a profoundly awful one (at least on paper?). The takeaway from that is pretty simple: the Flyers need to outplay the Sabres because Miller is unlikely to make it easy for them with a bunch of soft goals.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the next two games are guaranteed to follow that trend. As we’ve seen with these sometimes bizarre playoffs, a lot of strange things can happen.

That being said, don’t blame Buffalo if they feel very comfortable in an area of serious uncertainty for their first round opponents. Chances are, if someone lets the Sabres down, it probably won’t be their franchise goalie.

* – Thanks to commenter Chris Ostrander for clarification about a couple late series results for the Sabres.

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2. Johnny Gaudreau generated his 200th point (and 201st) in Calgary’s win, while Alex Steen generated four assists. (Vladimir Tarasenko also enjoyed a three-point night.)

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Brian Gionta scored in his 1,000th game as Buffalo won, by the way.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

Lightning storm back against Blackhawks, finish one point out of playoffs

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Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?

The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.

While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.

Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.

With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.

Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?