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NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - JANUARY 14: Michael McLeod #20 of the New Jersey Devils and Kevan Miller #86 of the Boston Bruins collide in the second period during the home opening game at Prudential Center on January 14, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

Thursday’s season-opening win in New Jersey came with something many thought they’d never see again: Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller, upright and playing in an NHL game, over 21 months (and four operations) after shattering his kneecap in Minnesota.

The Bruins saw the build towards this moment, and the 33-year-old Miller drew rightfully rave reviews for his training camp performance. But seeing it on the ice? For what finished as 16:49 of serviceable hockey? That was a welcomed sight for all involved.

“Everyone’s pulling for Kevan Miller,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said after the win. “He’s a well-liked teammate, hard to play against, well-respected defenseman in this league.

“It was awesome to see Millsy back,” said Brad Marchand. “We all know how hard of a road he’s had the last year and a half. A lot of guys would’ve quit and hung ‘em up. With how hard he’s pushed to get back, what he had to go through, and his resiliency, everybody was looking forward to watching him back on the ice.”

Miller looked like the Miller of old, too, with two hits and finishing the night as the Black and Gold’s third-most deployed penalty-killing defenseman on a shorthanded unit that finished a perfect 5-for-5.

“That’s the style he plays,” Tuukka Rask said. “He thrives on that kind of game. People try to hit him, he hits them back and makes them sit down. As a goalie, you like to see your defense bang bodies and block shots, and that’s his style.

“He’s been working extremely hard for the last couple of years trying to come back and we’re so happy for him.”

“I thought he did a good job,” Cassidy, who expects to keep Miller in action for Saturday’s contest, offered. “All in all, I thought he handled it well. Good on the PK, smacking guys around, letting ‘em know.”

Miller, one of Boston’s leaders, was also his usual self on the mic, too, at one point cutting off Marchand’s effusive praise with an, “Uncle, uncle. Jeez. Talk about yourself. Talk about your goal.” (Related: I’m pretty sure this was the first time in Bruins history that one of Marchand’s teammates has encouraged himself to instead hype himself up. Usually not an issue for the B’s gregarious all-star.)

“It’s been a long road,” Miller acknowledged. “I’m just excited to be back out there. Cam [Neely] had spoken to me a number of times, and he had been through some similar stuff. There’s a lot of guys; [Don Sweeney] was the same. Everybody seems to have some type of story and it was encouraging to know they came back.”

Just like Miller did Thursday, which was honestly the first step.

“I think the most important thing we wanted was to get him through [the game] healthy,” Cassidy admitted. “We were almost not even concerned about how the game went for him. Obviously we want him to play well, but we want him to survive live game action and be comfortable and trust his body to perform and we got both tonight.”

Listen to Ty Anderson and Matt Dolloff preview the 2020-21 Bruins season in the newest episode of the SideLines podcast.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.