Linesman to resume playoff duties

An 11-year NHL linesman who had been temporarily removed from working playoff games while contending with questions about the missing puck from last year's 2010 Stanley Cup final will resume his duties next week in Tampa Bay, the league confirmed on Saturday.

Steve Miller, 38, was not included among the officials assigned to work the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, according to the list made public by the NHL on Friday.

But on Saturday, Gary Meagher, the league's senior vice president for public relations, told ESPN that the matter is now "closed."

Miller was featured in an ESPN.com "Outside the Lines" story on April 21 that explored the whereabouts of the puck Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks shot to win last year's Cup in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers. Since the story appeared, Miller has not worked an NHL game.

Meagher said Friday that the decision was made to temporarily remove Miller from the playoffs to avoid any potential distractions. Meagher said Miller ws not suspended, and that the league stands behind him.

"There are lots of questions out there and to have any potential distraction while our playoffs are going on is not fair," Meagher said Friday.

The puck has been missing since Kane's overtime goal in Game 6 of last year's Cup final. After Kane shot the puck, Miller, one of the linesmen that night, told ESPN.com he never saw it and never came in contact with it.

"I wish I could say I had it or I wish I could say that I touched it, but I never touched the thing," Miller said in March.

Video shot by a Chicago police sergeant who attended the game as a fan -- and other videos circulating on the Internet -- appear to show Miller, linesman No. 89, bending over and picking up a small black object outside the crease after Kane's goal. A series of photos shot by The Associated Press around the same time seem to reveal the small black object is the puck.

At the request of a Chicago restaurant owner who is offering a $50,000 reward for the puck, the FBI's Regional Crimes Task Force in Chicago reviewed the Chicago police sergeant's video and determined with "100-percent certainty" that Miller picked up the puck.

On Friday, Meagher said the league was looking into the matter.

"We'd love to find the answers but I don't know if we'll ever get the answers," he said. "We're asking the questions. We want to find out. But the bottom line is we just don't know. And Steve doesn't know.

"At the end of the day you either believe someone or you don't believe them. We've talked to [Steve] as a league and talked to various people and we stand behind him. He absolutely doesn't recall getting the puck or doing anything with the puck."

Each year, the league picks 20 of its 34 linesmen to work the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. In Round 2, that number drops to 12. In the conference finals it falls to eight, and for the Stanley Cup finals it's four.

Miller worked two games during the first round this year. His last assignment was the April 17 game between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. During his NHL career, Miller has officiated more than 500 regular season and 50 playoff games. He worked both the 2009 and 2010 Stanley Cup finals.

Meagher said on Saturday that Miller might publically address the issues surrounding the missing puck at a later date.

Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn.com. Follow Wayne on Twitter @espnWD.