Jonathan Bernier thanked his teammates before he thanked the hockey gods for granting him his first win of the season.
“Definitely a big win for myself and for the guys, they played really well in front of me, they deserved the win,” Bernier said after a 5-0 win Saturday over the powerhouse Los Angeles Kings. The shutout, his first in the NHL since last December, ended Bernier’s 0-8-3 run to start this season.
“I was confident in the third period,” he said. “(The Kings) had to dump the puck in all the time, (there were) no odd-man rushes, we were playing really well against them.”
Bernier has been in as uncomfortable a spot as there can be for goalies. He was not only winless, but he was buried behind James Reimer, who had replaced him as the Leafs’ starter, and Garret Sparks, the AHL goalie who had taken over as the fill-in when Reimer got hurt. Worse, Bernier was sent to the Marlies on a conditioning stint, a thinly veiled challenge to both find his game and restore his shattered confidence.
It was going to take not only a monumental effort to shut out the Kings and get that elusive first win, it was going to take patience — and Bernier had all that Saturday night. But he also had help from his teammates.
The Leafs blocked 16 shots and were stellar with their checking assignments at both ends of the ice. It was arguably their best 60-minute effort of the season. Twelve of those blocked shots came in the first period, a stunning total given the Leafs average about 13 a night, 25th in the NHL.
“With my confidence, like I said before, I have been taking baby steps and tonight was another one of those,” Bernier said about restoring the physical and mental approach to his game.
A large part of the restoration — and it is still an ongoing process — has come from his work with goalie coach Steve Briere, who coach Mike Babcock praised after the game. For Bernier, though, the win Saturday marked the end of a long spiral downward, and perhaps the start of a climb back toward respect.
“I’d say relief, yes,” Bernier said. “But I felt the last couple of games I took baby steps in the right direction.”
Leo Komarov and Michael Grabner each had a pair of goals for the Leafs and Byron Froese scored his first NHL goal, but Bernier dominated the conversation.
“I have to give him a ton of credit,” Babcock said. “It’s not gone good for him. It’s been incredibly hard for him. He’s been down (with the Marlies), he’s watched Sparks play ahead of him, it’s not easy.
Congrats Bernier on your first win today on hockey night in Canada, December 20th 2016