SOCHI, Russia -- Ryan Miller finally got his first action of the Olympics on Sunday. Miller played a near-flawless game as the U.S. beat an overmatched Slovenia team, 5-1. He was very close to his first shutout in nearly two years before Marcel Rodman scored with 17.6 seconds left.
Miller laughed when I asked him in the mixed zone how much he had wanted the shutout. He has the longest active shutout drought of 85 starts, dating back to a 3-0 win over Montreal on March 12, 2012.
"I wanted it pretty bad," said Miller, who had 17 saves. "That's just unfortunate there. I looked a little too far left and he hammered it."
Miller didn't face many demanding shots, though he stopped every tough one before Rodman's goal. The Slovenians play a fairly conservative game. They had a few offensive flurries and some decent scoring chances. But they fired quite a few wide or over the net. Miller, of course, played his angles well and was generally in the right postion to challenge the shooters.
He admitted he had some butterflies in his first game. Coming off an emotional shootout win over the Russians, the Americans needed this game to win the A pool and earn an automatic bye into Wednesday semifinals. Miller wanted to be the primary reason the U.S. team didn't lose its focus.
"Yeah, I definitely had some nerves," Miller said. "It was an important game to ensure that we're at the top of our pool."
"I felt good. I haven't played in just over a week here, probably 11 or 12 days. So it was good to get back in a game. These guys play the kind of hockey where it's easy. You just set up for your one situation, your one passing option and the guys are coming back with sticks and tracking and they get the puck back.
"I like to be busy," Miller said. "I like to be in the game. There's not as many puck handles in this kind of rink. You want pucks heading your way a little bit. That's what I prefer. I got some pucks toward the net early on. I was telling myself, 'I came over here to contribute. This is my chance to contribute and help wrap up this pool and help the guys earn a break'. I did the best I could do."
U.S. coach Dan Bylsma wouldn't commit to a starting goaltender for Wednesday's quarterfinal. The U.S. won't learn its opponent until the end of prelimaries Sunday night. But it would be a stunner if Bylsma didn't go back to Jonathan Quick, who played well in the first two U.S. victories.