BOSTON (CBS) — For Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller, his return to the Bruins lineup Thursday night was nearly two years in the making. But the Boston blue liner did not look like someone who hadn’t played in an NHL game for nearly two years.

Miller saw just under 17 minutes of ice time in Boston’s 3-2 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils, and was the physical force the Bruins know that he can be. There was no hesitation in Miller’s game, as he landed a pair of hits throughout his time on the ice. He also played over three minutes on the Boston power play.

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Thursday night was Miller’s first game since April 4, 2019, when he broke his kneecap for the second time in just over a month. It has been a long road back for the 33-year-old, and his teammates couldn’t help but gush about his return after the Boston victory.

So much so that Miller had to tell them to stop.

“It was awesome to see Millsy back,” said winger Brad Marchand, who scored the shootout winner for Boston. “We all know how hard of a road he’s had the last year and a half. A lot of guys would have quit and would have just hung them up. With how hard he pushed to get back and what he had to go through and his resiliency, I think that’s what everyone was looking forward to tonight was watching him back on the ice.”

Marchand, who took the podium alongside Miller after the game, could have easily talked about his own performance, with a goal and an assist in regulation on top of his shootout winner. But instead, he kept heaping on the praise for his teammate.

“From the second he stepped back on the ice in camp, you could see that fire in his eye. It’s fun to watch him out there,” said Marchand. “He’s such a big part of our team, on and off the ice. It was great. We wanted to win for him tonight. Crazy how he does it – wasn’t just another part of the game. He was unreal out there, he was his old self again.”

At that point, Miller cried “uncle” on Marchand, asking him to end the lovefest.

“Talk about yourself. Talk about your goal, man,” he pleaded.

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Miller said it was great to be back on the ice, but he wasn’t interested in talking about himself. He spoke glowingly of Charlie McAvoy’s progression as Boston’s top defender, and thanked team president Cam Neely and GM Don Sweeney for all the words of wisdom they shared throughout lengthy recovery.

But there was no way other Bruins weren’t going to take the opportunity to highlight just how much they’re pulling for Miller. Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask, who made 22 saves before stopping all three Devils bids in the shootout, said it was great to have the rugged defenseman back in front of him. He was a big fan of the physicality that Miller displayed throughout Thursday’s contest.

“That’s the style you know, the style he plays. He thrives on that type of game,” Rask said of the heavy-hitter. “People try to hit him and he hits them back and makes them sit down. That’s great for him. Just makes him more involved in the game. I think he looked really comfortable out there.

“He’s worked extremely hard the last couple of years to come back. We’re so happy for him and we got the win,” added Rask. “As a goalie it’s nice to see that; [defensemen] that bang bodies and block shots.”

Miller’s work ethic and playing style make him a great teammate, and everyone is happy to have him back in the fold.

“Everyone’s pulling for Kevan Miller. He’s a well-liked teammate. He’s hard to play against, well respected defenseman in this league,” said head coach Bruce Cassidy. “That’s the way he’s going to play. He’s going to be out there, he’s going to be all in.

“I thought he handled it well,” Cassidy said of Miller’s return. “Good on the PK. Smacking guys around, letting them know.”

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With veteran leader Zdeno Chara now wearing a Washington Capitals sweater, the Bruins are counting on Miller to serve an important role in their defensive corps. In his first action in almost two years, he filled that role extremely well.

CBSBoston.com Staff