Ryan Miller said he knew it was time to leave Buffalo, no matter how much he wanted to stay.
The Sabres were in a state of decline and transitioning toward a rebuilding mode that included changes in the front office and behind the bench, and Miller was beginning to have contentious sessions with the media.
He's focused more on the good memories he has of Buffalo, though, as he returns for the first time with the Vancouver Canucks, who begin a seven-game road trip Saturday night.
Miller guided the Sabres to the Eastern Conference finals in 2006 and '07 in his first two full seasons and won the Vezina Trophy in 2009-10. They made the playoffs the next season before missing the following two years, leading to the firings of long-time fixtures in coach Lindy Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier.
The club then decided to move on without Miller, who was dealt to St. Louis at the trade deadline of the 2013-14 season before signing a three-year, $18 million deal with Vancouver.
Miller had a sprained knee that cost him most of the second half of last season when the Canucks lost 6-3 at Buffalo on Feb. 26.
"Once you show people who you are and they accept you, I think they feel you're always a part of that," Miller said. "I spent a long time here and really tried to connect to the community. It's a great place."
Surely he'll be emotional when he takes the ice and should get a warm ovation from the crowd, but he'll quickly turn his attention to trying to deal the Sabres (5-8-0) a fourth home loss in five tries.
Miller, who beat Buffalo 5-2 in Vancouver on Jan. 30 in his only other game against his former team, has a 2.14 goals-against average in 12 starts after losing 3-2 to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. The Canucks (6-3-4) had won their previous two.
"He built this place," winger Alexandre Burrows said. "We know how important it'll be to get a win for Ryan, so we're pretty fired up."
They're hoping to keep that excitement throughout a stretch that will have them on the road until playing their next home game Nov. 21. The Canucks first face a Sabres team that had won three of four prior to allowing three first-period goals in Thursday's 4-1 home loss to Tampa Bay.
Rookie Jack Eichel added to his highlight reel with his fifth goal, but Buffalo has lost six of the 10 games in which it has outshot its opponent.
''We're a lot to blame for that one,'' defenseman Cody Franson said. ''Our missed execution in the first period put us behind the eight ball early.''
Tyler Ennis assisted on Eichel's goal, and he knows the importance of getting off to a better start against Miller. They were teammates from Ennis' rookie season in 2009-10 until Miller was dealt.
"My best memory of Ryan is that I don't think I scored on him ever in four years of practice," Ennis said. "He's definitely one of the best goalies to ever play here and I think he's one of the best goalies in the league.
"We want to treat it like any other game. It'll be more emotional for Ryan because he hasn't played here, but we've gotta get a win and get back in the race."
Chad Johnson likely will be in net after stopping all 10 shots he faced over the final two periods Thursday, when he relieved Linus Ullmark. Johnson hasn't faced the Canucks since a relief effort in 2013 while with Boston.