Rangers’ K’Andre Miller elevating game with increased physicality

Larry Brooks

Larry Brooks


K’Andre Miller is aware that there are no small moments and no insignificant shifts in the playoffs. The 24-year-old defenseman carries a mindset onto the ice this time of year that suits him—and the Rangers—perfectly.

He believes.

“I think the playoffs bring the best out of me. I guess that’s the biggest thing,” Miller told The Post following Thursday’s prep session for Carolina. “I think I play my best hockey and my smartest hockey when these high-intensity games come up.

K’Andre Miller celebrates after scoring during the Rangers’ Game 2 win over the Capitals on April 23, 2024. AP

“I think that’s who I’ve been throughout my career, a big-time player who, when the stage is what it is, I feel I show up and play my best hockey.”

Miller was a dynamic presence on Braden Schneider’s left side on one of his team’s multiple matchup pairs in the sweep of the Caps in the compulsories. The defenseman was typically on his toes in joining the play, and he did score a spectacular shorthanded goal in Game 2 as the trailer on a three-on-two.

But the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder was also more physically engaged both playing the puck and man in battle areas but responding and stepping in when things might have gotten out of hand in the endless number of goalmouth scrums that accompanied whistles. Miller stepped up to handle Tom Wilson in Game 1 and TJ Oshie in Game 2.

Maybe there’s been a whole new K’Andre Miller ever since John Marino challenged him — dared him? — to throw down in the line brawl. Nah, not quite that, but No. 79 is not to be trifled with.

“I think in learning about myself in this league over the last couple of years, I’ve been able to figure out when I can use that physical side and when I need to use that physicality,” said Miller, who is completing the fourth year of his NHL and pro career. “These situations, obviously, present themselves a little bit differently in the playoffs.

“The intensity is a little bit higher, the noise is a little bit louder, the checks are coming a little bit louder. It’s the label and the nature of the playoffs. I embrace it.”

Miller may be 6-5, but he is not Jeff Beukeboom. Lordy, did you ever see Beuk try and rush the puck? The point, though, is obviously that all big men do not necessarily have the same game. And by the way, sometimes brute force is not the antidote to talent.

K’Andre Miller hits Tom Wilson during the Rangers’ Game 1 win over the
Capitals. Getty Images

Back in 1997, Detroit coach Scott Bowman was tasked with matching against the Flyers’ Legion of Doom featuring Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Mikael Renberg in the Cup Final. Folks surmised he would go strength against strength and match on defense with the physical Vlad Konstantinov and Slava Fetisov. Instead, Detroit went with the more finesse-oriented Nicklas Lidstrom and Larry Murphy. The Flyers were swept as The Legion combined for all of three goals.

“Key uses his physicality inside of battles, he uses his speed for positioning, he uses his stick for leverage, he uses his stick for an advantage in trying to defend, so there are different ways to defend and play a heavy game without actually having to be that real physical defenseman,” head coach Peter Laviolette said Thursday. “I think he is physical.

“I think he’s done a great job against top lines. He does it in his own way and that seems to work for him.”

The Rangers shot out of the gate at 18-4-1. Miller’s year started a bit more modestly. It took months for the defenseman to gain traction and build his season. He has done that while skating with Schneider on a pair that has been intact for 17 of the last 24 games including the Washington series. Both are spreading their wings.

“I think he’s been excellent really for the whole year,” Laviolette said of Miller, who averaged 19:53 of ice time against the Caps after getting 21:34 per during the season. “He’s a guy we’ve counted on to take down big minutes and tough opponents, he plays in all situations, is capable of that and he’s done a great job on the penalty kill.

“I think there has been growth and progression inside of the year. Like I’ve said, with all players there are always ups and downs inside of a season but for the most part I think he’s had a real strong season, a real positive season.”

Rangers defenseman K’Andre Miller has elevated his game in the playoffs. USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers took care of business against Washington. But as they await Round 2 against a Carolina team that finished with the third-best record in the NHL at 111 points, three behind the Blueshirts, they recognize the same level of play will not be good enough. Self-awareness has been one of the club’s greatest strengths all season.

“I took from our series that we still know how to win hockey games even when we’re not at our best,” Miller said. “Obviously, the guys in here know that we’re going to have to be better the rest of the way.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to get rid of these lapses and these non-playoff plays. One of the biggest things we can take away from this week is learning that we can be better.”

It’s time to elevate.

It’s time for Miller.

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