Ryan Miller vividly recalls the walk he took last year after the crushing end to the Sabres' season, when Buffalo was in position to steal the Eastern Conference title from Carolina. Buffalo led Game 7 on the road in the third period before things fell apart.
Miller and the Sabres returned to hockey's final four yesterday with a 5-4 victory in New York over the Rangers, giving them a 4-2 series win and an Eastern Conference final showdown with their Northeast Division rival, the Ottawa Senators.
"It feels pretty good to be back where we feel we belong," Miller said.
Chris Drury had a goal and assist in the Sabres' four-goal second period that erased an early deficit, and Miller preserved the win with 32 saves, including 11 in a frantic third period.
"I remember walking out of Carolina's rink talking to my dad, shaking my head and saying, 'I was 20 minutes away from a chance,' " Miller said. "It stuck with me the whole year. I want that chance again and I think everybody in this room appreciates it more that we got so close."
The only team standing in the way of the Presidents' Trophy-winning Sabres is Ottawa. In a game in February between the teams, a brawl that was sparked by a hit to Drury led to 100 penalty minutes.
"We definitely have some history with Ottawa and we're going to have to go out and play our best hockey, to have a chance to win that series," Miller said.
Dmitri Kalinin, Jason Pominville and Jochen Hecht joined Drury in Buffalo's offensive onslaught that lasted 9 minutes, 46 seconds.
"Odd-man rushes," the Rangers' Jaromir Jagr lamented. "We said that all series long. We just can't give it to them. We didn't lose it, we just gave it to them. They are a great team but they aren't better."
Jagr scored his 72nd career postseason goal in the loss.
"I think there is a lot more hockey left in this club so we're going to have some fun," Miller said.
At the world championships:
Erik Staal scored 23 seconds into overtime to give Canada a 4-3 victory over the Czech Republic at Mytischi, Russia, setting up today's Canada-United States game to determine first place in the teams' group. Both teams are assured of quarterfinal berths.
The Czechs also advanced because the point they gained in the regulation loss was enough to put them into the quarterfinals.
In another game in Mytischi, Pavol Demitra scored the winning goal and Slovakia reached the quarterfinals with a 4-3 victory over Belarus.
In Moscow, Johan Akerman scored and Johan Backlund made 38 saves in Sweden's 1-0 win over Finland, while Ilya Kovalchuk scored a goal and set up another to lead Russia over Switzerland, 6-3, also putting both winners into the quarters, which will be played in Moscow on Wednesday and Thursday.
Meanwhile, Russia's Alexander Ovechkin was suspended for one game for a check to the head of Switzerland's Valentin Wirz. He'll miss today's game with Sweden. *