Ryan: 651 days and 4 surgeries later, Kevan Miller’s arduous road to recovery finally leads him back to NHL

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Kevan Miller wasn't going to hesitate.

Having already knocked Michael McLeod aside while in pursuit of a puck, the veteran braced for what was to come — as 6-foot-4 Nathan Bastian zeroed in on him near the end boards.

Given the circumstances, you wouldn't fault Miller for opting to save his scrapping for another day. But rather than evade the incoming punishment, Miller didn't budge, etched his skates into the Prudential Center ice and met Bastian head-on.

To willingly invite such contact comes as second nature for the California native — and it came as little surprise to his teammates on the ice.

"People try to hit him — he hits them back and makes them sit down," Tuukka Rask said of the rugged blueliner.

Rask's words painted a vivid picture of what transpired as Bastian closed in — with the young forward simply bouncing off Miller like a kid playing two weight divisions over his head out on the gridiron.

On the Bruins' bench, there wasn't much of a shock that Miller wasn't willing to budge out on the ice. But there was concern that his surgically-repaired knee — marred and rebuilt through four surgeries in the span of 11 months — wouldn't offer the same kind of resistance.

"I think the most important thing we wanted was getting him through healthy," Bruce Cassidy said of Miller. "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-action and be comfortable and trust his body to perform."

It was only natural for Boston's bench boss to have such fears — given that Thursday's season opener in Newark stood as Miller's first taste of NHL action in 651 days.

Few players in the NHL willingly