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45-27-10 (3rd in East); lost in first round to Bruins
D Jordan Leopold, D Shaone Morrisonn, C Rob Niedermayer
LW Tim Kennedy, D Toni Lydman, D Henrik Tallinder
WHETHER HE likes it or not—and he assuredly doesn't—Ryan Miller has essentially become a latter-day Dominik Hasek in Buffalo. The goalies obviously have different styles and personalities. Miller (below) internalizes his emotions while the Dominator was Teflon-brained, but Miller, the U.S. Olympic star, is hardly less significant and only moderately less accomplished than Hasek was a decade ago. In an age when almost any goaltender can win a Cup (hello, Antti Niemi!), Miller is the foundation of the rare NHL team still built from the goal out.
"I think he's mature enough to deal with it," coach Lindy Ruff says. "When he was younger, he was pretty emotional and hard on himself. It was just a question of his understanding the ups and downs."
Miller needs more support from an offense that tilts left. Right wing Drew Stafford, coming off a desultory 14-goal season, is a first-liner by default. Slick but brittle center Tim Connolly, who finally stayed healthy enough to appear in 73 games but scored just 17 goals, also has to provide more muscular play.
"Yeah, there are guys we hope have bigger years," Ruff says. "Playing close, low-scoring games puts a lot of pressure on Ryan." He laughs. "And the coach."