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Bernier breaks hearts in St. Louis

by Larry Wigge
Right place. Right time.

That's what Steve Bernier said he was thinking at 1:41 of the third period after defenseman Sami Salo fired a shot from the top of the slot that went wildly wide and yet bounced off the backboards to Henrik Sedin at the left side of the St. Louis net.

It was at that time that Sedin dazzled with one of those pretty no-look backhand passes across the goal crease to Bernier for a tap in that gave the Vancouver Canucks a 3-2 victory and a commanding 3-0 lead in the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the St. Louis Blues.

Lively boards. Dazzling pass. And, oh yes, Bernier just happens to be a guy whom the Blues signed to a free-agent offer sheet last July -- retribution, in part, for the Canucks signing of power forward David Backes to a free-agent offer sheet just one week earlier. Both teams matched the respective offer sheets and kept their players, but it turned out to be an ironic twist that Bernier would spoil the first playoff game in St. Louis since April of 2004.

Bernier has become Vancouver's unsung hero by leading the team in hits, but, in reality, no tap in is an easy one for him.

"You're right about that," the big winger, who had 15 regular-season goals, laughed. "The coaches are always on me to bear down. Don't think. Just execute.

"I had to make up for that great chance I had earlier in the power play and missed it. The important thing is I got another chance … and buried it."

Teammates around him laughed at that comment, knowing Bernier's penchant for missing empty nets on many occasions earlier this season.

"The power play was a huge difference for us, especially when Bernie put that one into an open net," Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo laughed.

Scoring three power-play goals against St. Louis isn't an easy thing either. The Blues, who finished third in penalty killing in the NHL in the regular season, surrendered three power-play goals only twice this season, both times coming against Los Angeles.

"We got some big goals and killed off some big chances they had on the power play," Luongo added. "I don't know how many 5-on-3s we can keep giving them in the series, but the key tonight is that we killed them both off and didn't give them life in a game that was close right down to the end."

Luongo stopped 24 of 26 shots in the win, and has allowed only three goals in three games in the series. Dating back to the regular season, he's stopped nearly 97 percent of the shots he's faced in his last six games, which includes three shutouts.

"As a goalie, we feel good about being up 3-0," Luongo continued. "But you never get caught up in numbers until you've closed out a series."

And for Steve Bernier, the right place and right time is playing in Vancouver and just visiting St. Louis.

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