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Devils absolve Bernier, who looks to put hit in past

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils right wing Steve Bernier admits seeing the overwhelming support of fans when the team arrived home on Tuesday really helped put his mind at ease the last 24 hours.

The Los Angeles Kings scored three goals in Game 6 on Monday during Bernier's five-minute major penalty for boarding defenseman Rob Scuderi in the opening period. The 27-year-old was also ejected and forced to watch the remainder of the Stanley Cup Final-clinching 6-1 loss from the locker room.

"In all fairness to Bernier, he played great and those things could have happened to any player," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "Any player in that type of situation, the way that rule is, the player turns and you're doing your job. His job is to finish and take the body, which he did consistently."

Lamoriello spoke candidly about Bernier on Wednesday during the team's breakup day at Prudential Center.

"I have no second thoughts on him," Lamoriello said. "I'm just so proud of the way he handled it after the game and what he said. I feel, absolutely, there's no fault of his on any set of circumstances; it could have been any player on the ice."

Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk echoed those thoughts.

"That fourth line that included Bernie was great and a reason why we were in the Cup Final," Kovalchuk said. "He played the game the way he did. The refs have a job to do, and our job is to play. They scored three goals, so maybe we needed to do a better job there."

The penalty happened with Bernier leading the forecheck and Scuderi playing the puck on his backhand along the end boards, skating toward the back of his net. Before Bernier could stop, Scuderi put on the brakes and reversed the puck. Bernier then bulldozed Scuderi into the boards from behind.

"[The referee] made the right call," Lamoriello said.

The Kings defender remained on the ice for several minutes before skating gingerly to the bench. He didn't play another shift during the first, but returned for the start of the second period and played 17:01.

"Steve was trying to do what we asked him to do and what he was very effective at doing the entire playoffs," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "He wanted to get in on the forecheck and finish a hit. I have no negative feelings toward that play."

Lou Lamoriello, Peter DeBoer and Ilya Kovalchuk were among those who said Steve Bernier wasn't at fault after his boarding major proved pivotal in their Game 6 defeat. (Photo: Getty Images)

Bernier said he appreciates the fact the coaching staff and his teammates have supported him during such a tough time.

"Everybody in this room has been so nice," Bernier said. "I didn't try to do a non-hockey hit or something you don't usually do on the ice. I played the same way for the season, hitting every chance I got. It's hard to take, but the last thing I need to do is stop hitting next year. I've got to play the same way if I want to make the team."

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Bernier finished with 64 hits in 24 playoff games. He also produced two goals, seven points and a plus-3 rating playing alongside fourth-line mates Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter.

"Hitting is something I did so many times during the season," Bernier said. "I need to focus on my job and put [this incident] behind me."

Bernier had 61 hits in 32 regular-season games for the Devils.

"[DeBoer] said exactly what he needed to say and what I needed to hear [after the Game 6 loss]," he said. "It's very important coming from a coach. He knows I'm not a dirty player and I wouldn't do anything to hurt the team. I'll do anything to help this team win, and taking that five minute boarding penalty wasn't in the plan."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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