The swing of momentum you see during the course of a season is something that analysts and hockey experts love to debate over. Was it Game A that changed the team’s direction? Did that overtime goal make this team realize what it takes to win?
Imagine that momentum swing measured down to a span of 20-or-so games. Measure it down even further to the reaction from a major trade.
After acquiring U.S. Olympian Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 28, 2014, the St. Louis Blues went from a team that didn’t score in two consecutive games to an organization that went on an 8-0-1 stretch, with Miller recording seven of those victories. The Blues looked like a team destined for greatness. Miller looked to be the first goaltender to win the Stanley Cup after being traded mid-season since Patrick Roy in 1996.
Then, the momentum swung again. The Blues finished the season 5-9-0, including a six-game losing streak to close out the season. The Blues fell from first place in the Central Division to the second seed, drawing the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. Miller and the Blues lost in six games, vanishing the high hopes for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
The Blues remodeled their team with a new-look offense. Miller moved on to sign with the Vancouver Canucks and Brian Elliott took over the starting job in St. Louis.
With the 2014-15 season underway, Miller made his first appearance in Scottrade Center since April; this time wearing a different team’s crest. For the Michigan native, it was the first time in his illustrious NHL career that he was matched up against a former team.
“(They have) a lot of good guys on the team,” Miller said after the game. “It was one that I was really looking forward to, especially since (it was) in St. Louis.”
The result was Miller doing his best to shut down an offense that scored four goals on Jonas Hiller and the Calgary Flames two weeks ago and six goals against Mike Smith and the Arizona Coyotes last weekend. He made 31 saves in the contest, leading his team to a 4-1 victory.
Miller improved his record at Scottrade Center to 6-5-1, but he was thankful that his teammates were able to block 23 St. Louis shots to help preserve the victory.
“Guys are buying into what you have to do to win in this conference, especially against top teams like St. Louis,” he said. “The effort and the energy was there. It’s good to see the guys get rewarded and get the win.”
Miller was coming off a game that saw him allow five goals on 13 Dallas Stars shots on Tuesday. There were murmurs that backup Eddie Lack could take the crease, since he has posted a 3-0-0 record in his career against the Blues.
“I was looking forward to the challenge,” he said. “I have to say (that) the guys responded well. We skated well in that game and it felt good (to get the win).”
The Canucks jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead just 41 seconds into the game. Chris Higgins capitalized on a turnover in the neutral zone after receiving a pass from teammate Alex Burrows.
It wasn’t until Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk scored a power-play goal at 7:38 of the second period that another goal was scored in the game. He received a cross-ice pass from David Backes and buried a high shot past Miller.
The momentum swung, and in the matter of seconds, the game became Vancouver’s for the taking.
Nick Bonino added what stood as the game-winning tally at 4:54 of the third period, but it was Miller who started the play. The Blues broke in with right-winger Vladimir Tarasenko skating up center on the Canucks defense. He slid it to his right, where center Jori Lehtera fired a low wrist shot toward the right post. Miller slid across and caught it with his leg pad, kicking it behind the net, where Canucks defenseman Luca Sbisa gathered it and started a rush. Bonino had a clear shot to the net and beat Blues goalie Jake Allen not 10 seconds after Miller’s miraculous save.
Miller was pleased with the goal, but realized that it was back to business at next puck drop.
“It’s a good feeling but you gotta forget about it pretty quick,” Miller said about the save-and-goal combo. “No matter what, your job doesn’t change. I just tell myself that if we are going to beat this team, it’s gotta be one goal on the board for St. Louis. That was just my focus even after that third goal. I didn’t want to give them the chance to come back.”
Linden Vey scored a power-play goal at 11:57 and Jannik Hansen added the empty-net marker with 3:01 remaining on the game clock.
Although the loss to Miller likely put salt in the still-fresh wound for Blues fans, the Canucks goalie was not about to claim poetic justice against his former club. He admitted that he considered re-signing in the Gateway City.
“I was open to the possibility,” he said. “I liked the guys. I liked the way they treated each other and the organization is, obviously, first class. I have no complaints about anything. It was tough to bow out early and I know it was pretty emotional around here to the organization and fans. We didn’t get the job done and I’m going to feel really bad about it for a long time. But I have to continue to push in my career and (Vancouver) is where I ended up. I’m happy to be a Canuck. “
The announcement of Miller as the starting goaltender stirred some boos from the crowd. Did it affect the 12-year NHL veteran?
[See related: Ryan Miller Returns: The St. Louis Edition]
“It is what it is,” he said. “We didn’t get the job done so the fans let you hear about it. We, as a team, didn’t get the job done last year and I take my responsibility as a part of the team.”
After a disappointing end to the season in 2013-14, Miller seems to have pushed the momentum swing up to open the next campaign. If it continues, Canucks fans will not share the same sour taste as Blues fans did just a few months ago.