Sure, it was a career highlight for J.T. Miller, but there was only so much he recalled about the experience.
“I don’t know; I kind of blacked out there,” he said Monday after scoring a power-play goal with 2:17 remaining in overtime to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory over the Sabres in the NHL Winter Classic at Citi Field.
It was no surprise that Miller was overcome by the moment, because these were no ordinary circumstances — the first Winter Classic ever held in New York City, and Miller’s first outdoor game as a pro.
“To get the win in front of 40,000 people is something you can only dream about,” he said. By the time he ended it, some among the 41,821 who paid to attend had succumbed to the cold and left, but plenty remained for the grand finale.
The Rangers had squandered a 2-0 lead — with Miller assisting on the second goal — allowing the Sabres to tie it in the third period. It appeared a shootout was imminent until Jacob Josefson was called for tripping 2:15 into overtime, turning a three-on-three situation into a four-on-three.
At 2:30, play was stopped to allow the teams to change sides to account for a stiff wind at ice level. Seconds after the action resumed, Kevin Shattenkirk wristed a shot from just inside the blue line, in a direct line with the Sabres’ goal.
Miller thought he got a piece of the puck before it reached goaltender Robin Lehner, whose rebound landed at Miller’s feet. He beat Buffalo defenseman Marco Scandella to the puck and backhanded into a gaping net.
“I kind of had an idea Shatty was going to wrist it though,” Miller said. “I think their ‘D’ played pretty wide. I think I actually tipped the first one and then was super-fortunate for it to just bounce on my stick.”
He said the feeling was “kind of hard to describe . . . Obviously it’s super-lucky to have the whole net right there.” It was his eighth goal of the season.
Shattenkirk said he made eye contact with Miller and merely wanted to get it near him. It was a timely lift for a Rangers power play that has not been consistently effective.
“It’s huge for us to hopefully have something to build on here and realize what we did to get it,” Shattenkirk said. “It’s as simple as shooting pucks and guys getting up front. That’s the formula you have to go to when things aren’t going well.”
Miller, 24, who grew up in Ohio, said that while he had not played outdoors in the NHL the less-than-perfect ice conditions reminded him of playing outside when he was a youth.
“It brings back memories,” he said. “You have to learn to play through that.”
He even thought the strange shadow patterns that covered the ice in the first period — and made watching the game on television a challenge — were “cool.”
“It was a blast,” he said. “It was everything I obviously hoped it would be.”