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Miller the student prepares for a playoff test

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / April 14, 2010

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WILMINGTON — Two months ago, as the underdog Americans prepared for the gold-medal showdown against Team Canada in the Olympics, there wasn’t a player more ready for the game than Ryan Miller.

“He prepared the same way for every game, whether it was Norway, Switzerland, or Canada,’’ said Tim Thomas, who was Miller’s backup goalie on the US team in Vancouver. “He’s an intense guy when he gets ready for the games. He has his routine. He mentally prepared just as hard for each game.

“Based on what I saw at the Olympics, he must do that all season long.’’

There are some goalies who prefer a carefree approach to each game. Ex-Bruin Manny Fernandez, who’d torture himself with the mental buildup to competition, marveled at how much fun Martin Brodeur had in high-pressure games.

Miller, who will be in the Sabres net when the Bruins begin postseason play against Buffalo tomorrow, is the anti-Brodeur, taking as much time to study opposing shooters as he does to prepare himself for every game. The Bruins will wait to see how rookie Tuukka Rask performs under playoff pressure, but they enter Round 1 knowing that the enemy goalie has thrived most in white-knuckle situations, with his thorough preparation a significant factor in his success.

“Although,’’ noted Thomas, “that’s where tiredness comes in. You put that much mental focus for that much time, there does come a point where it does become harder to do, because you’re just mentally worn out. Mentally and physically, because it takes physical energy to mentally prepare like that.’’

In 34 playoff appearances, Miller is 20-14 with a 2.40 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. In the Olympics, he went 5-1 with a 1.35 GAA and a .946 save percentage.

This will be Rask’s first NHL playoff experience. He went 9-7 with a 2.21 GAA and a .930 save percentage in the AHL playoffs last season.

Ference practices
Andrew Ference, out for the last nine games of the regular season because of a recurring groin injury, made it through yesterday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. Ference was paired mostly with Adam McQuaid.

“Good as it’s going to get,’’ Ference said of his injury, which will require offseason surgery.

If Ference is cleared to play, the veteran defenseman would most likely replace Andrew Bodnarchuk, who dressed in the last five games.

“Possibility,’’ coach Claude Julien termed Ference’s Round 1 availability. “He’s feeling better. He’s looking good. But until he gets clearance from our doctors and medical staff, he’s only a possibility.’’

Mark Stuart (pinkie) and Marc Savard (post-concussion) are unlikely to play in this series, Julien said.

Four promoted
The Bruins recalled Dany Sabourin, Drew Larman, Mikko Lehtonen, and Max Sauve from Providence. The four join Zach Hamill to form the Black Aces, the term for players recalled by playoff teams around the league. They will train in Providence and practice with the Bruins when necessary. All are eligible for the playoffs . . . Julien said what strikes him about the Sabres is how they often employ both defensemen on the attack. Rookie Tyler Myers leads the defense with 11 goals and 37 assists, but all blue liners are encouraged to pinch and support the puck. “They attack with at least four, and even at times five guys, by the time you get to the goal or top of the circles,’’ Julien said. “They’re very aggressive on the offensive side of it. And rightfully so, because they’re so confident in the guy between the pipes that if there is a little glitch, they really feel comfortable that he can bail them out. That’s been their bread and butter this year. That’s not to take away from the fact that they’re still pretty good defensively. In their zone, they play pretty good defense.’’

Captain’s bars
Zdeno Chara practiced wearing the cage he wore in Games 80 and 81 to protect the broken nose he suffered against Washington April 5. “I think you’ve seen our captain play some of his best hockey at the end,’’ Julien said. “You could tell that he took the team on his shoulders and said, ‘Listen, I’m going to lead the way here.’ ’’ Chara logged 30 or more minutes in three of his last four games, earning a breather in the regular-season finale against Washington . . . Based on yesterday’s practice lines, Brad Marchand and Trent Whitfield will be the healthy scratches up front. If Ference can play, Bodnarchuk and Jeff Penner would be out of the lineup . . . Sabres center Tim Connolly participated in practice yesterday after missing the last nine games because of a foot injury. Connolly (17-48—65) finished second on the team in scoring behind Derek Roy (26-43—69).

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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