It's Miller time in Toronto

The Leafs' Niklas Hagman is rubbed out by Sabres defenceman Henrik Tallinder (right) as Tim...

The Leafs' Niklas Hagman is rubbed out by Sabres defenceman Henrik Tallinder (right) as Tim Connolly skates past last night. (Sun Media/Stan Behal)

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

There will be nights not too far down the road when Brian Burke and Ron Wilson will roundly celebrate efforts like this from Ryan Miller.

Last night though, they would have been more inclined to curse the Buffalo Sabres goaltender.

Miller showed why he may be the masked man to help take Team U.S.A. from long shot to contender at the Vancouver Olympics with a brilliant shutdown second period at the Air Canada Centre that helped his team to an easy 3-0 win against the Leafs.

"I hope he plays like that in February," Wilson said referring to the nights he will have Miller on his side. "He made all the difference in the first two periods. We should have had the lead at some point."

The 29-year-old Michigan native entered the night with a league-best save percentage of .933 showed just how he acquired it, particularly in a middle period in which he stopped 16 Toronto shots and withstood a pair of Leafs power plays.

From that point on, the Sabres played with the confidence of a team skating in front of a goaltender who looked like he might never surrender a goal.

"It's fun to play when you know you've got (Miller) back there," Sabres forward and fellow American Olympic hopeful Jason Pominville said before making a pitch for his goaltender. "(Burke and Wilson) know what he's capable of doing. He proved it again tonight that he's probably going to be their guy."

In a game that could have gone either way, you could almost sense the Sabres swell up with confidence after Miller made a series of big second-period saves.

When Tim Connolly bounced one off the leg of Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson at 13:07 of the middle period it grew even more.

Then Henrik Tallinder made it seem like a cinch 20 seconds into the final period as Miller went on to record his third shutout of the season and fourth of his career against the Leafs.

When facing a goaltender like Miller and a team that can play shutdown defence like the Sabres, it's crucial to score first and the Leafs missed a great opportunity in the second. Matt Stajan and Phil Kessel were essentially in a two-on-one rush when Stajan fed a pass that ended up right in his linemate's skates.

"If we get one there it's a whole different game," Stajan said. "They came back a little later, score one and we're chasing them all night."

Buffalo won its seventh in a row over the Leafs.

Now it's on the road for three games, beginning tonight in Montreal.

"I welcome playing on the road, to be honest with you," Wilson said. "We seem to play better and a little less tense."

ROB.LONGLEY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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