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Berube Giving Islanders A Lift In Playoff Race

by Brian Compton / New York Islanders

Jean-Francois Berube made his NHL debut with the New York Islanders during the first weekend of the season. He didn't play again until February.

The Islanders claimed the rookie goaltender Berube off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 6 to back up Thomas Greiss while starter Jaroslav Halak was recovering from an upper-body injury sustained during the preseason. His first test came four days later against the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks; Berube made 30 saves in a 4-1 loss at United Center. Halak made his season debut a week later, and Berube couldn't do anything but wait for another opportunity.

It was a drastic turn of events from last spring, when Berube led Manchester of the American Hockey League to a Calder Cup championship. But knowing Berube would have to pass through waivers to reach Bridgeport of the AHL this season, Islanders general manager Garth Snow opted to keep Berube, 24, on the roster as the No. 3 goalie rather than risk having another team claim him.

"It's part of the sport," Berube said after his 22 saves helped the Islanders end a four-game losing streak with a 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators at Barclays Center on Wednesday. "I'm just working hard, doing what I can with what I have, working hard in practices and staying ready. Obviously I know we have two really good goalies here, but with Jaro down, this is a good chance for me to get some games. I'm trying to learn as much as I can and just trying to learn what it is to be an NHL goalie."

Berube went to Bridgeport on a conditioning stint during the NHL All-Star break in January and won each of his four starts, allowing four goals. He returned to New York and made 40 saves in its first game after the break, a 5-3 win against the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 2. It was his first NHL victory.

But with Halak and Greiss healthy, it was back to simply facing shots in practice.

However, Berube knew he was going to receive starts again once it became official that Halak would miss at least six weeks after sustaining a lower-body injury in the final minutes of the Islanders' 2-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 8. He made his third NHL start a week later in the rematch with the Penguins at Consol Energy Center and was brilliant in a 33-save performance, though the Islanders lost 2-1 in a shootout.

Coach Jack Capuano admitted he thought about going right back to Berube two nights later against the Nashville Predators, but ultimately turned to Greiss.

"It's all about healthy competition, whether it's on your back end, whether it's the forward position or in goal," Capuano said. "He's playing well. We have faith in both guys that if they get in there, they're going to help us do the job. We've got back-to-backs coming up again. We've had a lot of travel here."

The travel may have played a role in the Islanders' recent funk; they entered Wednesday 1-4-2 in their previous seven games, scoring 11 goals. They needed something -- or someone -- to help reverse their fortunes.

Capuano went with his gut, started Berube against the Senators, and it paid off. With the game scoreless in the first period, Berube made a highlight-reel save against Ottawa forward Mark Stone, diving across the crease to get his glove on what appeared to be an easy goal. The Islanders' offense finally broke through in the second and Berube earned his second NHL win.

"To be honest, I think it was going wide," Berube said. "But I was just tracking the puck as good as I could. I saw it coming my way and [I] kind of made a little bit of a desperation save there."

The save kept the game scoreless until the Islanders got untracked.

"It could have been the turning point of the game. You need your goalie to make big saves," Capuano said. "He looked confident in there tonight. He competed hard, battled for his space. I thought he managed the puck pretty well. Anytime you get a big save like that, it lifts your guys up and lets you know the guy between the pipes came to play tonight and we've got to battle for him."

After all the waiting, Berube's teammates know they owe it to him to help him make the most of this opportunity.

"The last game [against Pittsburgh], I thought he stood on his head too," defenseman Travis Hamonic said. "Tonight, he made some really good saves. I'm not a goalie, but having to sit that long and wait your turn, it's got to be maybe two-fold; one, frustrating, but two, be ready to go when you're in there and prove a point. I thought he definitely played well. That's what it is in our situation. I think we're confident in all the guys right now. He comes in, and he's been really sharp."

Much like he was last spring, when Berube went 13-3 with a 2.30 goals-against average in the AHL playoffs. It was the type of pressure Berube relishes. One year later, he's trying to help the Islanders secure a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Obviously it's a lot of pressure when you're in the Calder Cup," Berube said. "It was my first experience going that far in the playoffs. Obviously I know now how to deal with that kind of pressure. To be honest, that's what elevates my game and that's why I feel most comfortable. I like having butterflies in my stomach, and I feel like that's when I play my best games.

"I know what I can do. I trust my abilities a lot. I'm someone who's confident with what I can do. It's a whole team effort here."

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