BUFFALO - As Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller skated off the ice after being benched early in the second period, he threw his glove and slammed his helmet into the ground in frustration.
Had this been any other time in the past three years, it would probably indicate it was time for the fans to head to the exits, trailing 3-0 to the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Not this year.
Backup Patrick Lalime has been nothing short of tremendous for the Sabres this year - a rare change from the gut-wrenching days of watching Jocelyn Thibault three seasons ago and Ty Conklin two years ago.
Lalime finished with 27 saves as the Sabres rallied for a 4-3 victory at HSBC Arena.
Even a year ago, Lalime was less than reliable. Remember, with approximately a quarter of the season remaining, Lalime was forced into the starting role as Miller went out with an ankle injury last year. During that time, the Sabres struggled down the stretch and painfully eliminated themselves from the playoff picture.
This season has been a completely different story for Lalime, who sports a .904 save percentage and a 3-2 record. Despite a loss to the same Penguins on Dec. 19, Lalime was very sharp, stopping 23 shots.
On Tuesday, entering with his team down, 3-0, Lalime was tested early and often and rose to the occasion. He made 18 saves in the second period to keep the game from getting out of hand and giving the Sabres' offense time to wake up.
"He played great," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "He knew he was going to face some rubber. He had the answer every time they came down the ice. I think at the end of the night, he was the difference. He shut them down."
If the Sabres want to make a serious run at an Eastern Conference title, they will need Lalime to continue his strong play in spot starts, as Miller will need some additional rest with his involvement in the Olympics. If Miller is forced to play a majority of the games down the stretch due to unreliable play from Lalime, Miller could easily gas out like he did at the end of the 2008 season, missing the playoffs again.
And that would leave the fans impersonating Miller's actions, throwing more than just their gloves and head wear.