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September 20, 2019

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Vegas’ Colin Miller goes from healthy scratch to series standout

Game 2: VGK VS Sharks Playoffs

Josie Lepe/AP Photo

Vegas Golden Knights’ Colin Miller smiles after his goal against the San Jose Sharks during the first period of Game 2 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series Friday, April 12, 2019, in San Jose, Calif. On June 28, 2019, the Golden Knights traded Miller to the Buffalo Sabres for a couple of future draft picks.

There has only been one change in the Golden Knights’ lineup in their first-round series with the San Jose Sharks: Colin Miller going from a healthy scratch in the Game 1 loss to a key contributor in the three wins since.

The Golden Knights opted for Nick Holden in the first game, a 5-2 defeat. Miller has been tremendous in his return to the lineup, seemingly out to prove he shouldn’t be scratched again.

“I think every guy has a role on this team, and if that’s the decision that’s made for that night, then you accept it and just try to help out wherever you can,” Miller said.

Miller is playing well on both ends of the ice and, alongside partner Jon Merrill, has posted Vegas’ best possession numbers in the series. Game 5 is tonight at 7:30 in San Jose, where the Golden Knights are looking to finish off the Sharks and again advance to the Western Conference semifinals.

“It’s not an easy thing to do, to sit Game 1 and have to come into Game 2 and play well and he did that,” Merrill said. “Everybody knows when they’re called upon to sit or to play, we’re ready to do whatever it takes to get a win for this team.”

Miller is often part of the power play and seldom on the penalty kill, so the fairest way to look at his contributions is at 5-on-5. When Miller has been on the ice at 5-on-5, Vegas has fired 30 shot attempts at the San Jose net and allowed 21 back at its own. That’s a Corsi rating of 58.8 and a relative Corsi of 13.6, which measures Miller’s contributions against his own teammates, both best on the team.

When Miller has been on the ice, the Golden Knights expected goals-for is 1.17 and expected goals-allowed is 0.5. That 70.2 percent is third-best on the team and best among defensemen with at least two games played.

“I’m not really a stat guy, but maybe not playing against the top lines as much or stuff like that (explains the numbers),” Miller said. “We’re just doing a good job of keeping it in front of us.”

He’s right about the opposition. Miller hasn’t faced San Jose’s top lines much in the series, playing most of his time against San Jose’s third line. In Games 2 and 3, that was Joe Thornton, Marcus Sorensen and Kevin Labanc, and with Thornton’s Game 4 suspension, Miller and Merrill faced more of a smorgasbord.

“When Colin plays real solid hockey, it doesn’t matter who he’s playing against,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “He was a little disappointed obviously he didn’t start Game 1, but since then he’s played real strong.”

Gallant said at the start of the playoffs that the team is deep, which means good players will have to sit. He said the decisions weren’t easy and pointed out that good players like Brandon Pirri and Ryan Carpenter have yet to dress in the series.

Miller was displeased to be a casualty of that depth in Game 1 but came back with a vengeance in the games since. If he keeps playing well, it will be an easy decision to pencil him into the lineup every night for the rest of the postseason.

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