Alain Vigneault's decision to insert J.T. Miller into lineup pays dividends
Alain Vigneault has made very few lineup changes from game to game in this playoff series, but he's made the right ones when needed.
Dan Carcillo went in for Jesper Fast for Game 3 and produced a goal in a limited role. Carcillo wasn't as effective in Game 4, so Vigneault rotated in J.T. Miller for Game 5 Sunday.
It was another shrewd move. Miller played with a jet pack on his back all game long and picked up an assist on Brad Richards' second-period goal to make for a successful playoff debut. "Heart rate was up . . . awesome experience," Miller said. "I didn't know 100 percent [I was playing] until I got to the rink today. Heart rate was up, especially at the start, which is something you dream about."
Despite being in Vigneault's doghouse and pinballing between Hartford (AHL) and New York during much of the season, Miller started Game 5. He had an early shot on goal and tons of energy to add to the line with Richards and Carl Hagelin.
"He held on to pucks and made plays. He's fearless," Richards said. "He has that type of mentality. You can kind of predict that this wasn't going to overwhelm him because he has that type of character. It was a good first game for him to jump in."
Miller wanted to jump out of the Garden in the second, when he misfired on two golden scoring chances from in close before Richards flicked a backhand past Steve Mason for a 2-0 lead.
Miller stayed wide on the initial odd-man rush and Richards set him up perfectly, but Miller shanked his one-timer. Hagelin dug the puck out and Miller again had a whack from the slot that was blocked right to Richards for a key goal.
"I'd rather just one-time it home there myself," Miller said. "But it's OK. Still a goal."
Vigneault had some pointed comments for Miller earlier this month after the rookie's sixth demotion of the season. "He hasn't earned the right to be at this level on a regular basis," Vigneault said at the time.
After his playoff debut, Miller earned higher praise from his coach. "I was just thinking he might be able to help us out," Vigneault said. "He did a good job today."