NEW YORK — K’Andre Miller‘s two-way game reached new heights in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and was an integral part of the New York Rangers’ 3:2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals Friday at Madison Square Garden.
Miller scored a goal, his second of the playoffs, on his only shot on target of the game 5:59 in the first half to level the game 1-1. It was a quick response that came 3:18 after the Lightning scored a power play goal to open the scoring. Miller’s first shot from the high slot was blocked by Tampa Bay forward Brandon Hagelbut Miller corraled the puck and missed Andrei Vasilyevsky at the second chance.
“It was huge – shot is blocked, [Miller] stuck with it,” defended Rangers Adam Fox said. “We’ve done a great job this year by scoring goals at the right time. He got one right back (after Tampa Bay scored). Huge goal over [K’Andre]and [it] definitely fueled us.”
[RELATED: Complete Rangers vs. Lightning series coverage]
New York leads the best-of-7 series 2-0. Game 3 takes place in Tampa Bay on Sunday.
The timing of that goal was crucial for the Rangers, who took the lead later in the first half and ultimately held onto back-to-back wins against the Lightning, who were previously 17-0 in the postseason after losing since the start of 2020’s playoffs.
Miller is familiar with scoring goals in tight games; 10 of his 14 NHL career goals in the regular season and playoffs combined have either leveled the game or put Rangers ahead.
The 22-year-old defenseman has points in three straight games and is second among Rangers defensemen with seven points (two goals, five assists) in 16 playoff games behind Fox, who had two assists in Game 2 and the NHL after Leads in points (22) at the position this postseason.
Miller played 23:15 in Game 2, third to Rangers behind Jacob Trouba‘s 25:14 and Fox’s 25:12 and had a longer shift as goalie in the closing minutes Igor Shesterkin and the Rangers fought off the Blitz. Tampa Bay scored in the third half 17:58 to draw within one and had several quality scoring chances while the game was on the line.
“I’m just trying to be consistent,” Miller said. “Obviously it’s not going to be your best game every night. It’s just a matter of finding out what you can do [each] situation and bring your best to the table.”
Video: TBL@NYR, Gm2: Miller collects a blocked shot to score
Coach Gerard Gallant has seen Miller mature in his first season with Rangers, improving defensively, becoming more involved offensively and being trusted with vital minutes in the playoffs over the course of the regular season.
“He’s been good all year, every month he’s getting better and better and better,” Gallant said of Miller. “More self-confidence. He plays for us 24, 25 minutes a night. … He’s a reliable player; he’s a young kid but he still plays great hockey for us. We love him – love the way he plays.”
Gallant credited Trouba, who plays in second pair with Miller, for helping the young defender grow this season and become a crucial factor in the postseason. Miller had 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 82 games this regular season and was third with Rangers at plus 23 behind center Mika Zibanejad (plus-30) and Troubah (plus-25).
“[Trouba] is just a really tough player; If I was on the opposing team, I wouldn’t want to play him,” Miller said. “It was fun to look up to such a high-end guy. He definitely took me under his wing and just showed me the ropes.”
Miller (6-foot-4, 216 pounds) could have an even higher ceiling in the years to come as he begins to realize his offensive potential, and especially as he shoots more often; He has 18 shots on goal in 16 playoff games and 102 shots on goal in his first full regular season. But Miller’s all-around play has bolstered New York’s strong backend foundation with Shesterkin, a finalist for this season’s Vezina and Hart trophies, and Fox, who won the Norris Trophy last season. Miller was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team last season.
And Miller’s goal in Game 2 might not even have been his biggest game of the postseason. He picked up a holding penalty Brock McGinn when he went to the net in Game 7 overtime against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, resulting in Artemi Panarin‘s series winning power play goal.
“He was great for all of us playoffs,” Fox said of Miller. “It’s something we need and he brings us every night.