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Bernier shines in limited chances, waits for new gig

by Curtis Zupke

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- It's been a dilemma for Jonathan Bernier for most, if not all of his NHL career.

Bernier needs to build a body of work so other teams can better evaluate him, but he can't do that as a Maytag repairman of sorts behind franchise goalie Jonathan Quick.

Unfortunately for the Los Angeles Kings, the washer isn't running as efficiently as last season, and Bernier's solid play is putting a different spin on the club's goaltending situation as the April 3 trade deadline approaches.

Bernier is finally getting a longer look this season and has responded by going 7-2-0 with 1.94 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. He has surpassed his win total from last season and is six appearances shy of the 16 games he played in from that 82-game slate.

Jonathan Bernier wants to prove he can be a No. 1 goaltender, but opportunities are sparse behind the guy who carried the Kings to a Stanley Cup last season. (Photo: Getty Images)

His latest performance was one of his best yet. Bernier made a career-high 40 saves Tuesday night to help the Kings hold off a desperate Phoenix Coyotes team in a 3-2 victory.

While Bernier likes L.A., he acknowledges he cannot usurp Quick, who begins a 10-year contract extension next season.

"Ten years is not going to do anything for me," Bernier told "That's the business, and for me, I think it just helps me on the long run for other teams to take a look at me and maybe see [that] I've got something good.

"A lot of teams know what I'm capable of, but at the same time when it comes down to negotiating for a trade, if I don't play they'll obviously try and bring the price down. It's not good for me, not good for [general manager] Dean [Lombardi]. Obviously I want the best for the team. If I stay here, then perfect. If I don't, then hopefully they can get something for good for me."

Lombardi said in January it was not feasible to trade Bernier because the Kings do not have an NHL-ready goalie in their system to step in behind Quick. So any trade that moves Bernier would have to yield another netminder in return, and L.A. could be in the market for a defenseman given injuries to Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell.

Bernier's increased playing time is partially because Quick was coming off back surgery at the beginning of the season. Sutter typically rides his No. 1 goalie hard (see the games played column in Miikka Kiprusoff's bio), and said at the start that the compressed schedule wouldn't be a factor in his goalie rotation, pointing to the 60 regular-season and Stanley Cup Playoff games that Martin Brodeur played in the shortened 1994-95 season.

Jonathan Bernier
Goalie - LAK
RECORD: 7-2-0
GAA: 1.94 | SVP: 0.923
That Sutter has played Bernier this much is also more an indictment of Quick, whose save percentage -- particularly on quality scoring chances -- is below .900, and who has yet to absolutely steal games like he did so often in 2011-12. Quick recorded the team's first shutout Monday night behind L.A.'s banged-up defense -- he and Bernier combined for 11 last season -- and Sutter recently said Quick "has got to get his swagger back."

It's not ideal for Bernier, who must see Quick struggle to get significant playing time or get traded from the defending Cup champions to be in a larger role. From a personal standpoint, though, Bernier said, "Obviously it's been a lot more fun this year" with the increased responsibility.

"Your confidence obviously goes up and you feel a lot more comfortable in net," he said. "For me, it's all about my game, controlling my game, controlling rebounds and stuff like that, so obviously for me feeling really comfortable and confident makes a big difference in my game."

The rap on Bernier early in his career was that he struggled to control rebounds, but this season he's been more consistent and showed flashes of why he was the 11th pick in the 2006 NHL Draft.

St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock coached Bernier for Canada in the 2011 World Championship, when Bernier took over for James Reimer, and is familiar with his capability.

"I think it's his calmness that is pretty significant," Hitchcock said. "I find him really calm in the net. And I think, overall, when you're really calm in the net, that feels good throughout the lineup when your goalie is calm in the net."

Quick said, "[Bernier] has all the tools. Real patient -- more patient than the majority of the starting guys right now. I think it's a matter of time before he gets an opportunity. He's a great goalie."

"It's just one of those things, as a goaltender, you have to sometimes bide your time. Tim Thomas waited how long? It's tough on [Bernier], but it's a great opportunity for him to compete against a Conn Smythe-winning goaltender in Quick. I think they have a great rapport and they make each other better."
-- Kings forward Dustin Penner on teammate Jonathan Bernier

It's ironic Bernier seeks to get out from behind Quick on the depth chart, because Bernier was actually perceived as the franchise's future when the two were coming up in the organization. Quick was in the ECHL when Bernier won a gold medal (as a backup) on Canada's 2008 World Junior Championship team.

Years later, Bernier-as-trade-bait is an underlying theme here. It reached a nadir last summer when Bernier reportedly asked to be moved, but the goaltender clarified that never happened.

"At my [Stanley] Cup party it was a misunderstanding, I guess," Bernier said. "I just said I wanted to play more so if it has to come down to getting traded I'll look forward to it."

His teammates understand Bernier's predicament.

"He's a team-first guy, but as an individual, he wants to probably achieve a level of success that Quickie achieved," Dustin Penner said. "It's just one of those things, as a goaltender, you have to sometimes bide your time. Tim Thomas waited how long? It's tough on him, but it's a great opportunity for him to compete against a Conn Smythe-winning goaltender in Quick. I think they have a great rapport and they make each other better."

Many believe Bernier is a potential No. 1. He's using that patience off the ice, too, although his instincts are leading him.

"It's flattering thing to hear, but at the same time, I've got to prove it," he said. "Hopefully my chance will come soon. That's hockey. I'm still learning. I guess you always learn about the League. But I think I'm more than ready to step into a bigger role."

The question remains if other NHL teams feel the same way, and when Bernier might finally have a chance to prove he is worthy of it.

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