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Bernier's aim: improve scoring touch

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver's Steve Bernier is out to prove that practice really does make perfect.

The rugged 24-year-old forward has been hitting the ice 15 to 20 minutes prior to the start of practice since Monday, putting in extra over to polish his shooting from in close.

Missed opportunities from the hash marks in plagued the first-year Canuck this season and he’s on a mission to contribute more offense in the postseason.

"Playoffs are so important and it's so hard to get scoring chances that when you do have one, you want to do the best you can to score," he said.

Bernier's postseason routine includes rifling pucks into the net from the goalmouth before backing up 10 feet to improve his touch from farther out.

Although not officially credited with a goal in Vancouver’s 2-1 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series against St. Louis, Bernier did put his practice to good use for the game-winning goal.

When Sami Salo fired a point shot on the power play at 5:11 of the second period, Bernier was camped out in front of St. Louis netminder Chris Mason and he got his stick up to deflect the puck in -- though Salo was credited with the goal.

Bernier didn't hit the scoresheet in Game 2, a 3-0 victory that sent the Canucks to St. Louis up two games in the best-of-7 series.

"Whether you get credit for the goal or not, we scored it and that's the most important thing," said Bernier, who has 1 career playoff goal and 6 assists in 24 games.

As true as that is, the Canucks were 8-2-2 when Bernier found the back of the net this season, so the more offensive opportunities he can convert, the better.

Bernier has been skating with Mason Raymond and Kyle Wellwood on the third line in the first two games. The trio has generated good pressure, but hasn't put up anything on the scoreboard.

"They've done a good job of going north-south pretty quickly on the ice and then once they're in the offensive zone, challenging their coverage with either a gritty effort going to the net or skill and speed," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said.

"They’re doing what we expect them to do and they need to continue to improve also."

For Bernier, who led the team in hits during the regular season with 146 in 81 games, that means maintaining the workhorse style he competes with at both ends of the rink.

Should the Canucks and San Jose Sharks meet this postseason, Bernier may get the chance to go up against Claude Lemieux, the 43-year-old agitator whose style he tries to emulate.

"He was always such a warrior in the playoffs, the way he was hitting and just bringing himself to the ice was always great for him and great for his team," Bernier said of Lemieux, a four-time Cup winner. "It’s almost impossible to do it like he does, but I’m trying hard and hopefully it’ll help the team win."

It's that level of competition that attracted not only the Canucks to Bernier this off-season, but also the Blues.

Vancouver acquired Bernier from the Buffalo Sabres in early July, just four months after Buffalo got him from San Jose at the trade deadline. But St. Louis extended an offer sheet his way -- one that the Canucks swiftly matched.

It was a difficult year for the kid from Quebec, but with Vancouver and St. Louis both bidding for his services prior to the season, he entered the year with renewed confidence.

A career-high 32 points was the result of Bernier’s self-assurance and it’s a widespread belief in Vancouver that the potential is there for a whole lot more.

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