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Bernier, Balanced Attack Propel Leafs

by David Alter / Toronto Maple Leafs

It was 366 days ago when Jonathan Bernier recorded a career-high 48 saves en route to a Leafs 3-2 OT win over the Dallas Stars.

On this night, the game wasn’t as close but he was certainly busy, recording 44 saves, on the way to a 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

“Obviously, I was seeing the puck well,” Bernier said. “I thought I gave up a few rebounds there where my D were really good and they cleared that puck.”

Bernier made his eight consecutive start in goal, matching his career high set last season, his first as a Maple Leaf.

It got off to a bit of a rocky start last month with a 9-2 loss Nashville. Since that time, Bernier has posted a 5-1-1 record. The latest result is evidence that Bernier has found his groove.

“He’s had some early season woes, I think he’d be the first one to say that he wasn’t as sharp as he needed to be,” said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. “We just felt we were going to give him the ball to run with, with the spread of games and days in between. He’s been the guy who has led our hockey club, so we just felt it was a proper set up for him to go run with it here.”

There certainly was a lot of pressure from the Canucks, firing 91 shots toward Toronto’s net.

The Leafs blocked 24 of those, which is a season high.

The key was weathering the storm.

The Canucks applied a lot of pressure, but the Leafs didn’t give up a lot of space in the middle of the ice.

Ultimately, Jake Gardiner grabbed the Leafs first goal at 15:47 of the first period, helping the Leafs improve to an NHL best 11-0-0 this season, when scoring the first goal of the game.

Richard Panik scored less than a minute later to give the Leafs a 2-0 lead, going into the first intermission.

It’s been a long road for Panik, who got a chance to give his NHL career a reset, when Leafs claimed him off waivers on October 9th. He’s made the most of his opportunity in the brief time he’s been able to contribute on the team’s fourth line.

“I got goals so that helps me,” said Panik, who feels there is still more he can do. “I like staying after practice and trying to get the confidence. I still think I can play better so I’m just focusing on that.”

It was Panik’s 5th goal of the season, but the celebration that ensued, far surpassed the previous four.

“I was just too excited,” Panik recalled. “I didn’t believe it would work out for me, that move would work in Tampa. I kind of skated far away.”

Minutes into the third period, Gardiner would be credited with the game opening goal, after it was initially given to Peter Holland. Approximately 30 seconds following the announcement of the change, Holland would get his goal to make it 3-0 Toronto.

“Well I had to get it back once they switched it, right?” Holland joked.

Holland’s goal, his sixth of the season, set a new career high for the Leafs forward, registering his third multi-point game of the season.

The fourth goal would be critical for the Leafs.

The Canucks hold a record 16-1-0 when they limit their opponents to three goals or less. The record moved to 2-7-1 when the opponent scores four or more.

Joffrey Lupul scored the fourth goal that chased Vancouver goalie Ryan Miller away, while extending his point-streak to four games in the process (4G, 3A).

It’s wasn’t a game that the statisticians would like to see from the Leafs. But keeping the Canucks out of the slot, combined with stellar goaltending, led the Leafs to another win.

Notes: Brandon Kozun was activated to the Leafs roster after finishing up a conditioning stint with the Marlies. He was a healthy scratch. Toronto have scored five or more goals in nine of their 26 games. Their goals per game average is just 0.04 back of Tampa Bay for first the NHL with 3.42. David Booth recorded his first point as a Maple Leaf, a first period assist against the team that bought him out this past summer. The Leafs went 6-6 on the penalty kill, the first time they have successfully defended that many this season.

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