Jonathan Bernier stretched and skated around in circles in his crease. The goaltender did everything he could to stay warm.
The result was the easiest shutout of Bernier’s career, with the Toronto Maple Leafs tying a franchise record by allowing just 10 shots in a 4-0 victory over the lowly Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
”You’re just trying to stay focused and make the save that you should make,” Bernier said. ”I thought we played very solid. We kept everything to the outside. Probably the best game since I’ve been here.”
The Leafs allowed 10 shots just once before in franchise history, on Jan. 5, 2002, against Ottawa. It was Bernier’s eighth career shutout.
The shot total was the lowest in franchise history for the Sabres.
”We had nothing,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. ”Toronto had everything going, they were skating well. They deserved everything that they got, and we deserved what we got.”
Tyler Bozak put Toronto in front in the second period, and Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Jake Gardiner scored in an impressive third for the Maple Leafs.
Buffalo goaltender Michal Neuvirth finished with 33 stops.
As Bernier stood at the other end and waited through 39-plus minutes of a scoreless game, coach Randy Carlyle watched and hoped that one bad bounce wouldn’t cost his team.
”Those are nervous times because you know that sometimes fate in sports comes and bites you the wrong way,” Carlyle said after the Leafs’ second victory in six home games this season. ”That was what we were worried about. You’ll question that all the time.”
The shot differential of 37-10 was by far the largest of the season for the Leafs.
Toronto looked good early on, with Joffrey Lupul hitting the crossbar seven minutes in. Peter Holland then was hooked on a short-handed breakaway, and van Riemsdyk hit the post behind Neuvirth on the same play.
A 5-on-3 power play for 1:09 yielded more passes on the perimeter than shots, and Neuvirth made two big stops on Nazem Kadri at the end of the 5-on-4 portion.
”Our goalie was outstanding for us, gave us a chance,” Buffalo’s Josh Gorges said. ”We didn’t respond. That’s by far not good enough.”
With Buffalo’s Marcus Foligno off for kneeing Kadri, the Leafs finally broke through.
A little over a minute later, Kessel threaded a perfect pass to Bozak at the blue line, and the center was in all alone. Bozak shot high on Neuvirth to make it 1-0 with 49.6 seconds left in the second, stopping the Leafs’ power-play skid at 0 for 28.
”I was going minute-by-minute, doing my best like every time I play,” Neuvirth said. ”I think it was a big goal for them. … I think if we could go into the locker room tied 0-0, it would be a different story in the third.”
As good as Neuvirth was for the game’s first two periods, he gave up a bad one to Kessel 4:18 into the third. Santorelli cycled it to the star winger behind the net, and Kessel banked it in off the goaltender from way below the goal line.
Exactly a minute later, Buffalo’s defense was nowhere to be found when Morgan Rielly, stationed in the corner, found van Riemsdyk at the other side of the net for a tap-in and a 3-0 lead.
”You just got to stick with it,” Kessel said. ”I thought we stuck with it, and then eventually it breaks and we were able to get a couple goals after that.”
NOTES: Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf departed late in the second period with what Carlyle said was a hip injury. He returned at the start of the third. … Leafs forward Carter Ashton was a healthy scratch for the ninth straight game to start the season. Ashton would have to pass through waivers if the team wanted to send him to the minors and is considered likely to get claimed. Carlyle referred to the 23-year-old as a ”good soldier” earlier Tuesday for practicing and not getting into a game so far. … Sabres rookie Sam Reinhart, the second-overall pick in the June draft, played in his eighth NHL game. He can play one more before the first year of his contract counts with the 10th, or Buffalo can send him back to Kootenay of the Western Hockey League.