The last time St. Louis Blues fans saw goaltender Ryan Miller, he was skating through the handshake line, congratulating the Chicago Blackhawks on their 2014 quarterfinal-round victory. It was not the way that the Blues brass thought his time in St. Louis would end.
Not two months earlier, St. Louis was buzzing with Stanley Cup dreams as he and forward Steve Ott were acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for goaltender Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a 2015 first-round pick and a 2016 third-round pick.
[See related: Ryan Miller Trade Will Live in Infamy]
The emotions swirled for months after the devastating loss, as backup Brian Elliott re-signed (this time as the starter), and Miller moved on to join the Vancouver Canucks.
Was it Miller’s fault, or was it the lack of goal scoring in the postseason? Was it a mixture of both?
Either way, it seems that both parties have moved on. Blues management faced the goal-scoring problem head on by signing forwards Joakim Lindstrom, Jori Lehtera and Paul Stastny in the off-season. Miller found the $6 million-per-year contract he was publicly seeking, signing a three-year, $18 million contract with the Canadian club.
Tonight, we find out if the Blues fan base is ready to forgive and forget the playoff disappointment from a season ago.
Recently, I conducted an online poll for over 350 Blues fans to answer. It involved Miller’s return to Scottrade Center for the first time since losing Game 5 to a Jonathan Toews breakaway goal in overtime.
The results are not that surprising; most feel that booing the former Blue solves nothing and just shows, for lack of a better term, classless fandom. The minority, however, feel that they have been wronged by the goaltender and want swift justice in the form of audio hatred.
Yes, 21 percent does not seem like a large amount of people. However, think of this in terms of a full NHL arena: the Scottrade Center holds 19,150 fans. If the game is sold out and 21 percent of the crowd boos the American goaltender, that means that approximately 4,022 fans will be making Miller hear their displeasure.
The possibility of Miller receiving the start
Initial indications were that Miller may not even start the game. In his last start, the 2014 U.S. Olympian allowed five goals on just 13 shots against the Dallas Stars before being lifted early in the second period. Despite it being his first loss in a Canucks uniform, the performance was enough to believe he may not receive the next start in goal.
Factor in that his backup, Eddie Lack, has been sensational against the Blues in his career. He’s posted a 3-0-0 record, including a measly 0.97 GAA and a towering .960 save percentage, to go along with one shutout.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter and Blues beat writer Jeremy Rutherford offered insight on Wednesday, suggesting the decision may not be as easy as originally thought for Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins.
So … following Vancouver’s practice today, all indications are that Ryan Miller WILL start against #stlblues.
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) October 22, 2014
It’s likely he will be in net. Blues fans will pack the house. How does this affect the usually laid back Miller?
Miller ready to face his former team
“There are games as a competitor you want to play,” Miller told Brad Ziemer of the Vancouver Sun after an optional practice Wednesday in Dallas. “There’s a good group of guys I got to know (in St. Louis). You try and find the sporting kind of spirit in it where you go out and try to play well. I was there for a brief time but got to know a lot of the guys pretty well.”
Coach Desjardins added that Miller may not be his easy-going self when the Canucks take the ice on Thursday evening. In fact, he harbors the same bitterness that some Blues fans do.
“I know Miller would like the opportunity to play against St. Louis,” Desjardins said. “Things didn’t go the way he wanted there last year.”
Although Miller admits that he doesn’t have hard feelings toward the Blues or its fan base, it should be a prove-my-worth game for the goaltender.
For the Blues, it is an opportunity to prove that the change in offense could be the difference in the next postseason.