After a strong start, Berra struggled to put together solid games and saw his backup goaltending role somewhat usurped by a young prospect by the name of Calvin Pickard. After some on-the-ice soul searching and no small amount of hard work, Berra has returned to the upward trajectory from before.
In the last seven days, Berra has skated into the blue paint and played his heart out, earning wins against the Western Conference-leading Anaheim Ducks and the wild card-bound Winnipeg Jets. The latter came in fine, shutout fashion as he stoned two shooters in the extra-curricular skills competition.
“I feel pretty good right now,” said Berra after the 1-0 victory. “The whole season was sometimes tough. I went through tough times, but it’s just my second year over here [in North America]. I have to learn still— learn a lot. Overall, I’m happy I have good form right now.”
Berra was strong in all areas on Thursday night, turning aside 41 shots in regulation and overtime before stopping both Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd in the tiebreaker to secure the win—after Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene converted their own shootout attempts.
“Like always, I just tried to be patient, tried to get a read [on] what they were doing,” said Berra. “I had kind of an idea of maybe what to do. It was good that I was patient because these guys, yeah they’re pretty good with the stick. If you bite too early, they’re going to score probably. The whole game, I felt good and also in the shootout.”
Berra’s first-ever shutout win capped off the goaltending duel between himself and Ondrej Pavelec at Pepsi Center, and his shootout domination came as no surprise to Duchene or O’Reilly. Both centers know how good their goalie is 1-on-1.
“He played awesome. He played a hell of a game, made a lot of saves, obviously, on a lot of shots,” Duchene said. “He’s one of the best goaltenders I’ve ever shot against in a breakaway or a shootout situation. He owns me pretty bad in practice. He showed why he’s so good, and he made two really good saves, was really calm in there. It’s nice to see him get a nice shutout there.”
“He was phenomenal. He made some brilliant saves, especially at the end of the third period there,” added O’Reilly. “He made a game-saver there to give us a chance in OT, and once he got in the shootout—he’s an outstanding shootout goalie—we just kind of knew we were going to win that one.”
The confidence instilled in the lineup, from top to bottom, helped the Avalanche play its own game from start to finish, and it was indicative of the kind of groove Berra settled into early.
“[I was] in a flow a little bit. Sometimes that happens, and as a goalie you love that. It just happens sometimes. Sometimes it doesn’t happen,” Berra said. “Today, I came in a little bit in this flow and I just enjoyed it, and it was fun to play.”
The recent success of Colorado’s backup goalie is a story that everyone can enjoy, including head coach Patrick Roy, who knows what it has taken for the 28-year-old Swiss netminder to get to where he is now.
“I’m happy for him. Obviously, early in the season he put doubts in everybody’s mind. I don’t criticize the critics on him, but at the same time he didn’t perform to the level that he should have,” Roy said, acknowledging Berra’s determination to improve. “Today, it’s fun to see him be rewarded with the effort. Reto works hard in practice, and he’s been playing well. I’m happy for him, very happy for him.”
A combination of confidence, which only increases with strong performances like Thursday’s, and hard work put in away from the spotlight of game action are two factors that Roy said can be attributed to the rise of Berra once more.
“I like to think it’s a mix of both. He’s working harder in the practices. I think he understands better the role of a backup goalie. It’s kind of fairly new for him because in Switzerland he was always the No. 1 guy. Since he’s been here, he’s played as a backup. It’s a different role, and I think he’s getting there,” said Roy. “He understands that he has to work. He needs to maintain his shape. He needs to work harder off the ice, and in practice he needs to work harder than [Semyon Varlamov] if he wants to perform.”
For now, Berra gets a chance to bask in the glory of Colorado’s league-leading 10th shutout win as the Avs prepare for the season finale against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday.
“I felt good. It’s a great, nice win,” the goalie said.
It’s safe to say the Avs were proud of the way they played Thursday night against the Jets, keeping the playoff-bound squad off the scoreboard for the entirety of regulation, five minutes of overtime and for two shooters in the shootout.
“Any time where you don’t allow any goals, it’s definitely a good feeling, especially with the way we competed out there,” said Ryan O'Reilly. “We stayed with it the entire game, and did not try to force things late. There’s definitely some good lessons there that we have to continue to do.”
While the victory gives Colorado something to build upon, it carries with it the bittersweet knowledge that the Avs can skate with the clubs that are making the postseason.
“It’s frustrating when you can beat a team like that and we’re on the outside looking in,” O’Reilly said. “We wish we could go back in time and redo the start of our season and see where we are, but it’s a good win for us. We’ve got one left, and we need to continue to play well.”
Both O’Reilly and Matt Duchene were instrumental in Colorado’s win, scoring back-to-back shootout tallies to seal the victory.
“I just wanted to change my speed and see if I could beat him with the backhand and lucky for me it did,” O’Reilly said of his score, downplaying the work involved in a split-second decision like that.
“I saw what Factor did first. He and I talk a lot about what we’re going to do and stuff, and I had a feeling he might try that one,” Duchene added. “When I saw that that worked, I was just trying to fake like I was going to do it again and just switched it up at the last second.”