Maple Leafs' Bernier blanks Kings to end drought
TORONTO -- Jonathan Bernier's confidence may have waned, but his sense of humor is certainly intact.
Minutes after earning his first victory of the season by shutting out the Los Angeles Kings 5-0 Saturday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs' goalie flashed a wry smile.
"I won last week," Bernier quipped about winning in the minors.
Following 11 losses to start his NHL season and a humbling journey on a minor-league conditioning assignment, Bernier shined against the Kings by stopping 26 shots.
"I've had a tough time, but I've been saying it: `If you stick to the program and you work hard, at one point you'll get rewarded,'" Bernier said. "Definitely that was a big win for myself and for the team. Guys played really well and we deserved the win tonight."
Bernier had been 0-8-3 with some of the worst stats among NHL goalies. But he was on point Saturday night, stopping several quality scoring chances and remaining calm under pressure.
The Maple Leafs (11-13-7) played a strong defensive game against a tired Kings team at the end of a six-game road trip. But all the postgame smiles had to do with getting the job done for Bernier.
"It hadn't gone as good for Bernier," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. "It's got to be unbelievably hard on him mentally, and you get put through the ringer. He's been down in the minors, he watched [Garret] Sparks play ahead of him -- that's not easy. ... The whole team is thrilled for him. I'm thrilled for him."
The Kings (20-10-2) credited Jonathan Quick's former backup for beating them.
"You hear him talking in interviews lately, he was talking about how he was feeling like he was getting better and better, and better things were going to come for him," winger Milan Lucic said. "It seemed like everything we put on net hit him and he was in the right spot and played a really good game."
Bernier also had some help from his teammates. Michael Grabner and Leo Komarov each scored twice as part of a dominant performance alongside new linemate Nazem Kadri.
"We created some chances," said Grabner, who had a career-high four points. "We gave up a couple chances against we've got to get a little bit better at, but overall I think it was a pretty good game for the first game together."
Komarov gave the Maple Leafs an early lead, and Bernier made it stand up until the third period when goals came in quick succession. Grabner scored twice, Komarov added his team-leading 13th of the season and Byron Froese had his first NHL goal to turn the game into a rout.
An excellent glove save by Bernier on Marian Gaborik led to Toronto scoring the third goal. At the other end, Kings backup Jhonas Enroth couldn't make the same kind of stop.
"We had a really good chance going one way, and then they come back down and score and it's 3-0," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "I thought the (final) two goals were goals we normally don't give up. It's just sometimes how it goes, and the game got out of reach real quick for us."
The Maple Leafs extended their point streak to five games going into a road trip next week at Colorado and Arizona. While goaltending has been a question for several weeks, Bernier showed Saturday night that he can still make the most of a major opportunity.
That's what Babcock wanted to see.
"He should feel proud, feel good about himself," Babcock said. "We're pulling for him like crazy, so it's great that it happened."
NOTES: The Maple Leafs experienced a scare late in the second period when defenseman Morgan Rielly slid awkwardly into the boards. Rielly returned for the third. ... Babcock said the Maple Leafs would recall an extra forward before the holiday roster freeze that began at midnight. ... The Kings went 3-2-1 on their road trip.