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Since winning a silver medal for the United States and being named MVP at last month's Olympics, Ryan Miller has received more than one hero's welcome when introduced before an NHL game.
He should expect to hear the longest and loudest cheers prior to playing before a sellout crowd of more than 20,000 in his home state.
The Michigan native is expected to start in goal for the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night when they meet the Detroit Red Wings in the opener of a five-game road trip.
Miller had lost five of six games for Buffalo (36-21-9) leading into the Olympics, but starred in Vancouver by going 5-1 and allowing just eight goals as a young and unheralded USA team went to overtime before falling to Canada in the gold-medal game.
The response upon returning to NHL play has surprised the normally soft-spoken Miller. On March 2 in his first game following the Olympics, Miller didn't start, but received a standing ovation in Pittsburgh from the partisan Penguins crowd.
"You don't always step into a visiting rink expecting something positive," he said. "It was a little surreal."
The following night at home before facing league-leading Washington, Miller received a raucous 45-second standing ovation as he was the last of seven Buffalo-area medalists honored by the Sabres.
He can expect more of the same Saturday. Miller is from East Lansing, Mich., and was a star at Michigan State for two seasons, winning the Hobey Baker Award in 2001 as college hockey's top player.
Though he defeated Detroit on Oct. 13 with a 6-2 victory in Buffalo, Miller has not usually fared well against the Red Wings. Coming into this season, he was 1-5-0 with a 3.84 GAA - with the win coming by shootout in October 2006 at Joe Louis Arena.
On Jan. 10, 2009, Miller stopped 45 shots, but allowed a pair of late goals in the Sabres' 3-1 road loss to the Red Wings.
With Patrick Lalime in goal Friday, Buffalo's three-game winning streak ended with a 3-2 loss to Minnesota. Thomas Vanek scored twice in the third period for his first multigoal game since the win over Detroit in October.
"We didn't shoot it enough, myself included, early on. We went for the easy back-door plays instead of just putting it on net," said Vanek, who leads the Sabres with 22 goals this season, down from the team-high 40 he had in 2008-09.
Despite the defeat, first-place Buffalo still owns a two-point lead over Ottawa in the Northeast Division. After this contest, the Sabres continue their swing against every team in the Southeast except for the high-scoring Capitals.
The Red Wings (32-23-12) will be looking for their fourth win in five games following a 5-1 rout of Minnesota on Thursday. Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom and Henrik Zetterberg staked Detroit to an early 3-0 lead, and rookie Jimmy Howard made 21 saves for his 25th win.
"No one is challenging themselves more than Z," coach Mike Babcock told the Red Wings' official Web site. "He wants to be that good every night. We tried to give him as much help as we could with linemates. ... He's got to feel good about himself, and that's real important."
Detroit has won four of six following the Olympic break, but are outside the playoff bubble after winning the Central Division each of the last eight seasons with two Stanley Cups.
"We need to put a run together," Babcock said. "Are we capable of it? Sure, but the intensity level and how hard we have to play has to pick up for sure."
A good effort against the Sabres will give the Red Wings some momentum before embarking on a three-game swing through western Canada starting Monday in Calgary.
|Mar 13 '10||BUF 2 at DET 3 - ot||B. Rafalski|
|Oct 13 '09||DET 2 at BUF 6||T. Vanek|