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Bernier Riding High

by David Alter / Toronto Maple Leafs

Jonathan Bernier has been on fire as of late.

In four consecutive starts, he’s been the difference between a Leafs win or loss, putting up save percentages of .952 or better.

For all his accomplishments, he’s never been one to look back on his stats.

“I never look at it,” Bernier said. “Even if I have a good season or bad season, I don’t look at it.”

It’s a common approach; the past is in the past and you must move forward.

“Even in junior I never really looked at it. To me it’s a win that matters. You could win 6-5 at the end of the year and that matters to me. And what matters is the win and to make the playoffs.”

Bernier has 13 wins this season, exactly half the amount he earned with the Maple Leafs last season.

His 26 win year came in 55 games played. Barring anything unforeseen, he’s on pace to shatter his career previous career high.

Bernier’s confidence is riding high as he continues to get the reps. He made nine consecutive starts between November 18 and December 9. The stretch began with a 9-2 loss to Nashville, a post-game celebration and other distractions which seemed to galvanise the team.

“We took a lot of heat from fans and media and we knew we had to stick together as a group,” said Bernier.

Now it’s a back-to-basics approach. The Maple Leafs held a meeting before practice, with a focus on getting back to the style of play that allows them to only give up 25 shots a game or less.

Bernier has been very complimentary of how the team has played in front of him. The team is blocking shots and allowing him to see the puck. The wins have allowed the Leafs to shake some of the outside noise, while getting mentally tougher.

“When you win, all of the distractions go away. But obviously if you’re not playing well, that’s when the distraction comes,” added Bernier. “I think we’re finding ways to block everything out and just focusing on our game. It’s a learning process for everyone. I got here after the playoff run. It was new to me last year, but I feel like guys are feeling more comfortable being in the market.”

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Booth’s first goal

It’s been a long time coming for David Booth. His goal in Tuesday’s 6-2 over Anaheim was the game-winner.

“You know, it was kind of a fluke goal” said Booth. “I guess that’s the way the first ones go in. It’ll be nice to hopefully build off it, and hopefully get the feel back of missing so much time.”

Booth missed a large portion of the season with a broken foot, and avoided being a part of some of the early pitfalls the Leafs went through. His addition to the fourth line has provided some much needed depth. The fourth line has seen its minutes improve since Booth’s addition. Players like Richard Panik have been able to make the most of the ice-time that is afforded, scoring six times. Booth has taken a bit of a different approach.

“You really don’t think about it that much when you’re in the fourth line role. Your job really isn’t necessarily to score goals. That’s something that might be a by-product of chipping away at the other team’s defence. We just have to stick with our role on the fourth line and you can’t worry about that because your role is different.”

New to the team, Booth has been able to be a part of this current run of wins against top teams. The Leafs have been on a winning streaks before. But, Booth himself, got a sense that this is different.

On the way over to the rink I was riding with a few of the guys and I was just asking if they had ever been on a run like this before, and I don’t think they remembered anything like this. It is good, but you still have to keep going. The bar is set. You have to focus on the next game, the past is behind us. You move forward and you have to keep playing. Hopefully you take from the momentum of beating good teams and playing them well but you can’t rely that it’s going to be given to you.”

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Kozun on waivers

Brandon Kozun was placed on waivers as the Leafs get ready to welcome Roman Polak back to the lineup.

Polak has been out of the lineup with a knee injury since November 22nd.

Kozun played in one game since returning from a high ankle sprain he suffered early in the season.

If Kozun clears on Thursday, he will report to the Toronto Marlies.

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