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Bernier returns to Maple Leafs with more confidence after stint in minors

NHL.com @NHL

TORONTO - Jonathan Bernier is back with the Toronto Maple Leafs and ready to capitalize on a successful stint in the minors.

Bernier stopped 91 of the 96 shots he faced on a conditioning loan with the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies that was designed to help him get his game together. After going 0-8-1 with a 3.28 goals-against average and .888 save percentage in his first nine NHL starts this season, he's back in net Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I think the last few weeks, it's been good for me and a lot of positives," Bernier said. "So I just want to carry that feeling I had in my games to tonight's game and keep building."

Bernier had three shutouts in his first three games for the Marlies before giving up five goals Sunday, including one on the first shot he faced. With that hiccup behind Bernier, coach Mike Babcock wants to see the 27-year-old play like himself.

"He had three real strong games in the minors and one not as good," Babcock said. "We need him to be good and he wants to be good and we want him to be good. We had a plan, we stuck to the plan and now the next part's the execution obviously at our level."

The success of the Leafs' plan, which led to James Reimer aggravating an injury and Garret Sparks playing more than anyone could have expected, can't be judged yet. Babcock figures he'll have a good idea after facing the Lightning.

"He's a proud guy, he's a good pro, he's been a good goalie in the league, things have gone wrong for him," Babcock said. "How do you handle it and how do you bounce back?"

Getting Bernier's head together and his play back on track goes beyond bouncing back for one or two games. He's signed through next season at a salary-cap hit of US$4.15 million, and he has been considered Toronto's goaltender of the present and future.

The recent past was troublesome for Bernier, who had been relegated to backup duty to Reimer and even Sparks. Confidence can be a fickle thing, especially for goalies, and practice wasn't enough to fix what ailed him.

"You want to work hard in practice and stay on top of your game, but at the end of the day, you've got to have that feeling of playing in front of people, playing in a game and that pressure and things like that," Bernier said. "It was good for me to go down and play some games."

When Bernier was back at Leafs practice Monday, forward Shawn Matthias asked him how the minor-league stint and came away feeling that "he's confident again and he's feeling good."

Bernier wasn't a pariah by any means when he was giving up ill-timed goals, but how he has handled his demotion could earn him even more respect among teammates.

"He's in the weight room, he's always doing his work," Matthias said. "Sometimes you hit a speed bump here and there. You've got to see what you're made of."

"We all go through them in our careers. There's good years, there's rough patches. You've got to put your head down and keep working."

Notes ??? Defenceman Frankie Corrado was expected to make his Leafs debut 10 weeks after being claimed off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks. ... Winger Joffrey Lupul was set to return from a five-game absence with a lower-body injury, though Babcock said he'd start on the fourth line.

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