Miller key for youthful Sabres

Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller makes a save against Flyers forward Darroll Powe during Game 6 of...

Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller makes a save against Flyers forward Darroll Powe during Game 6 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal series in Buffalo, New York, April 24, 2011. (DOUG BENZ/Reuters)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:00 PM ET

Ryan Miller has played in Game 7 of an Eastern Conference final and, despite losing, came out just fine.

The Buffalo Sabres netminder was a Sidney Crosby overtime goal away from leading the U.S. to Olympic gold in Vancouver last winter as well.

So when it comes to big-game experience, Miller has you covered.

For most of his Sabres teammates, who face the Flyers Tuesday in Philly for the deciding game of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal, the exposure to such situations isn't so refined.

The often brash Miller says to heck with that, and really, look around these NHL playoffs and show us any team remaining that should fear their opponent.

The Sabres-Flyers contest is but one of three co-features on Terrific Tuesday, the conclusion to what has been a series high on drama and story lines.

From the Flyers goaltending, to the surprising Sabres and the back and forth between Miller and Philly captain Mike Richards, the series has not lacked in intrigue on or off the ice.

But Miller's take on post-season seasoning is that there's no better time to acquire it than on the fly.

"(The Flyers) definitely have some playoff experience, but the best way I can describe experience is that it has to start sometime," Miller told reporters following the Sabres practice Monday in Buffalo.

"To get the experience, you have to go through it. When you really get down to it, you have to start somewhere."

Yes, Tuesday would be a good time for the upstart, seventh-seeded Sabres, who are bidding to pull off the first major upset of these gripping playoffs. A series that has had a pair of overtime contests and two more Sabres shutouts, not to mention some big comebacks in back-to-back games by the Flyers, is very much up for grabs.

The No. 2 seeded Flyers have opened the door with suspect goaltending that has seen coach Peter Laviollete go to the hook in games three times.

To counter that, the Flyers have been comeback kids. In Sunday's 5-4 overtime win, they came back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to force one of the greatest moments in sport -- a Game 7 -- back at home.

Knocking off the Flyers on the road will be no easy task for the Sabres, considering the crazed atmosphere expected at the Wells Fargo Center and the fact that the Flyers carried the play for much of the past two games.

The young Sabres, light on talent up front and even more so with the loss of centre Tim Connolly, who was crushed by Richards in Game 6, have a tall order. They looked weary towards the end of Sunday's game in Buffalo and may not have much left in the tank.

Miller, who was in net for the Sabres' Game 7 loss to Carolina in the 2006 Conference final, was being subtle and polite but suggested those in front of him need to protect a lead if, for the fourth time in this series, Philly goaltenders come up small.

"I don't think the advantage is that great," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said of the Flyers' edge in experience. "Your veteran experience is what it is. We've got some youthful enthusiasm that should cover that off.

"The frustration of losing (Game 6) is already gone. I said to the team, 'Wrap your arms around this, enjoy it, put a smile on your face.' They've got some pressure they're going to face playing at home."

The Sabres may get some help up front in the form of injured centre Derek Roy, who is expected to return to the lineup. Ruff played coy on the subject Monday, but even if Roy does rejoin the lineup, how effective can a guy who hasn't played since December be in a Game 7?

"These guys worked hard to get to the playoffs all season long and I'm not going to let them down with my work ethic," Roy said. "I'm going to go out there and work just as hard, if not harder, than everybody else."

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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