Forget Tampa Bay’s boy wonder Steven Stamkos, Vancouver’s Steve Bernier was the difference maker as the Canucks upended the Lightning 2-1 on Friday night at GM Place.
Big bad Bernier ended an eight-game goalless drought when he snuck a puck through Karri Ramo’s five-hole midway through the third period to break a 1-1 tie.
Tampa’s David Koci started the play with a poor clearing attempt from behind his own net, the puck shuffled around the boards but was kept in by Ryan Johnson.
Pavol Demitra, broken finger and all, gave the puck a whack ensuring it reached Bernier, who swiftly picked it up and had position on Josef Melichar behind the goal.
With only his right hand on his stick, Bernier swung around to Ramo’s right before pumping the brakes and darting a backhander into the crease.
The play looked broken at that point until the puck ricocheted rabidly off Vincent Lecavalier’s right skate and over the goal line.
Thank you sir, may I have another?
“The only thing I saw is that the puck went in, I didn’t know who scored and I didn’t care,” laughed Bernier, who now has 13 goals on the season.
“So many times you’ve got good chances and you don’t score and it was one of those lucky goals, but I will take it and hopefully the confidence will keep building and be able to play better the next couple of games.”
The Canucks are hoping the same.
Even though three of Bernier’s last five goals have counted as game-winners, he’s gone through a few scoring slumps this year and has been unable to get on much of a point streak.
Bernier collected 10 points (2-8-10) in 11 games between Dec. 17 and Jan. 7, but since then he’s found the scoresheet only six times (4-2-6) in 19 games.
The game within the game is a confidence struggle for Bernier and he’s trusting this tally will help him finish the regular season strong.
“You miss a couple [of chances] each game and it’s tough on momentum, but it’s part of the game and the most important thing is just to keep working hard every game.
“If you keep working hard, those types of goals are going to happen and it’s going to help you build your confidence and play better the next game.”
Bernier once again skated on the third line alongside Mason Raymond
and Kyle Wellwood, who coming into this game were both beyond sagging in the goal department.
Raymond (18 games without finding the back of the net) and Wellwood (17 contests without a score) have one goal between them in 2009 and only four combined assists in their last 35 games.
Both have been in and out of the line-up as they struggle for consistency, Bernier, however, hasn’t been planted in the press box because even without amassing points, his level of intensity is never in question.
In the four games this trio has been together, Bernier has been trying to ensure that the line contributes no matter what.
“We’ve been working hard as a line,” said Bernier. “Not every night are you able to score, but the most important is trying to do something good on the ice like play good defensively or make the other team take a penalty and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”
Coach Alain Vigneault was less than enthusiastic about the game – “They say you never critic a win and I’m not sure if this is one of those times,” he joked – but Bernier’s timely goal wasn’t just a blip on his radar.
When Vancouver’s top lines are shooting blanks – welcome to the conversation lines one and two – the gritty guys have got to be able to produce with the game up for grabs.
“We’ve got a couple guys right now that are trying to find the net and we’ve got some very big games coming up, especially next game against Columbus where we know we have to be a lot better than we were tonight, and hopefully some of those guys that are looking to find the back of the net are going to be able to do it.”
With the win, Vancouver’s 31st of the season, the Canucks move back into fifth spot, two points up on the Columbus Blue Jackets, who swarm into GM Place on Sunday.
It’s a shame Columbus couldn’t fly in a day earlier to make it a February game as Vancouver finished the month with a sparkling 9-2-0 record.
Here’s to the Canucks roaring into March like lions and praying on the Jackets like lambs.