Jonathan Bernier didn’t expect to play in Thursday’s game against San Jose, but after being called into action after an injury to starter Garret Sparks
, the veteran goalie stepped in – and although he didn’t get the victory after Toronto’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Sharks, Bernier smiled in the Leafs dressing room and found some solace in what went right with his game and his teammates’ efforts.
“I’m proud of the guys,” said Bernier, who stopped 26 of 29 Sharks shots after coming into the game at the 11:32 mark of the first period. “They battled hard, and I thought we had a great second. We got a big point out of it. That’s a positive.”
The Leafs have now earned at least a point in each of their past four games, but they came out of the gate poorly, surrendering the first two goals of the night and being outshot 20-9 in the first 20 minutes. However, Peter Holland’s fifth goal of the season with 5:12 remaining in the first period halted the visiting team’s momentum, and Leo Komarov’s team-leading 11th of the year 4:50 into the second period pulled the Leafs even.
Toronto padded their lead to 4-2 thanks to goals from James van Riemsdyk (with his 10th of the season) and Michael Grabner’s second of the year, but the veteran Sharks squad answered back by scoring twice in a 1:54 span of the third period. Still, Bernier was able to hold the fort and stopped Sharks forward Chris Tierney on a a penalty shot to send the contest to overtime. San Jose blueliner Brent Burns won the game with a goal at the 2:13 mark, but Buds head coach Mike Babcock and his charges appreciated what Bernier was able to contribute.
“He was good,” Babcock said of Bernier. “And let’s be honest, guys, he never thought he was playing. It’s not even like you’re getting ready in his situation right now.”
“He played good,” added Grabner. “We wanted to get him the first win, and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t get it done today. But he came in and played a great game.”
Babcock wasn’t nearly as pleased with Toronto’s start to the game, and neither were Toronto’s players.
“They were way better than us, they dominated us early and really got on us,” Babcock said. “They had us on our heels, and we had a little talk and competed way harder in the second… (b)ut in the end, I was pleased with our guys, the way we responded, because we got our show run so bad in the first that it was great to see them respond.”
“We weren’t ready to play (in the first),” added Holland. “We were sitting around watching them do what they want, they controlled the play, they were in our end, cycling the puck. It’s like they had all the time in the world to play in our end. And in the second period, we finally started to execute what we needed to do. We shut down their time and space and we started to play in their end more.”
With Sparks expected to be sidelined for some time, Babcock confirmed Bernier will get the start in net when Toronto takes on the powerful L.A. Kings Saturday at the ACC. And while he might not feel on top of his game, he believes in his process.
“I wanted to build on last game,” Bernier said. “I just want to keep building and I thought that was another step in the right direction.”
Babcock believes the ball is now in Bernier’s hands.
“That’s the great thing about life – if you just work hard and prepare, it’s amazing how breaks go your way,” Babcock said. “He’s got to do the same now. He’s starting next game, he’s got to dig in, he’s got to compete, he’s got to battle, and he’s got to find his mojo. And he gets an opportunity now he might not have gotten.”