Even among those in the vast regions of America where there is little or no interest in the NHL, Ryan Miller became a topic of conversation for two weeks in the winter of 2010.

He was the goalie for the United States at the Vancouver Olympics who lifted the team into the gold-medal game on his narrow shoulders, and America's sporting public loves when one of its own stands proudly on a world stage.

For the next one or two weeks, or for how long it takes the Flyers and Sabres to resolve a first-round Stanley Cup playoff series that begins Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center, Miller will again be a topic of conversation. For good reason. No player on either club has more ability to influence the series than the Buffalo goalie.

There's no denying the Sabres have the advantage over the Flyers at goalie, the most important position on the ice, and there's no denying Miller is a big-game stopper. So the Sabres will go as far as Miller takes them. He's capable of making the other matchups irrelevant.

"He's going to be the key to our team in any situation we're in," Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers said in a NationalPost.com report. "That's how good of a goalie he is. He's the backbone of the Sabres. It doesn't matter what playoff series, what game we're in, he's always the key."

Miller has proved the higher the stakes the better he is. He's been to the playoffs three times, and twice the Sabres reached the Eastern Conference finals. The one time he didn't reach the conference final, last season, Miller may have been worn down by playing in 69 regular-season games as well as the Olympics.

At the Olympics, he was 5-1 with a 1.35 goals-against average and .946 save percentage and the tourney MVP. The defeat came against Canada in the gold-medal game, when he had 36 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss. In the preliminary round, Miller stopped 42 of 45 shots in a shocking, 5-3 win over Canada. He's the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. In the first Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2008, he allowed one goal against Pittsburgh before losing a shootout.