PHILADELPHIA – Teammates in Los Angeles, Jonathan Bernier had a sense of what Wayne Simmonds might attempt when the two squared off in Philadelphia on Wednesday night. Hauled down by Paul Ranger with fewer than four ticks left in the second period of a tie game, Simmonds was promptly shut down by the closed pads of Bernier in what proved to be a game-changing penalty shot.
“He's got a great backhand too,” Bernier smiled after his Leafs debut, a 31-save gem that sealed a 3-1 win, the second in as many nights for Toronto. “I remember that. I was hoping he was going to shoot it.”
Passed over for the opening night start in Montreal just a day earlier, Bernier was a sponge in the Leafs crease, absorbing a barrage of shots from a feisty Flyers group, his team eventually finding their way in the third frame en route to victory and a perfect 2-0-0 start to the season.
“The puck just seems to stick to him,” Joffrey Lupul said afterward of Bernier. “Especially on point shots through traffic or tipped, it just seems to always be right around him.”
“He just battled,” added Randy Carlyle, the Leafs surviving six of seven Flyer power-plays, including three in a turbulent opening frame. “Any of the loose pucks that were around he seemed to have the ability to scoop up, be it with his trapper or his blocker. He grabbed pucks. When there were loose pucks around, they didn't get many second opportunities.”
And when they did manage those opportunities, Bernier held strong. With the Flyers on the hunt of their fourth man advantage early in the second frame it was the Quebec netminder turning aside multiple whacks from Vincent Lecavalier and Matt Read, the score remaining a misleading 1-0 for the home side.
Holding strong early and often, his efforts were eventually rewarded late in the second frame when Phil Kessel buried his first of the season to knot the score at one.
It was less than three minutes later though that Simmonds was awarded the penalty shot – 3.1 seconds left on the clock – a simmering Philadelphia crowd about to bubble over with their team on the attack and the period about to close.
The game lingered on the line, a goal from Simmonds sure to turn the tides in the Flyers favour heading into the third and final frame.
“Those are momentum swings that can carry a team into the room and I think with him stopping the penalty shot [it] gave our room an extra boost between the second and third,” Carlyle said.
“He made it look pretty easy,” Lupul added of the stop on Simmonds.
Dave Bolland would score the go-ahead goal minutes into the third, his first as a Leaf and first of two on the evening, all that Bernier would need to preserve victory.
On the hunt for the No. 1 gig in Toronto after years as a backup with the Kings, it was a fine first showing for the 25-year-old. How it skews the early race for starting duties will certainly prove curious in the days ahead, the home opener with Ottawa looming at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday.
1. More pucks for Bernier
Bernier better get used to seeing more rubber in Toronto than he did in Los Angeles. The Kings gave up the third fewest shots per game last season, a direct contrast to the Leafs, who finished fourth-worst overall, yielding more than 32 per night. Over the past two seasons – a stretch that includes 25 starts – Bernier faced more 30 shots on only four occasions, winning three of the four starts.
2. Carlyle's choice
Bernier's impressive performance may not be enough to earn him the start on Saturday if past history is the judge for Carlyle. James Reimer has simply sizzled in his career against the Senators, highlighted by a 8-1-1 career mark with a 1.69 goals against average and .949 save percentage.
3. Bolland rises
With Claude Giroux occupying the first line centre spot for the Flyers and Lecavalier manning the second hole, Carlyle made the decision at the outset of the second frame to flip Bolland onto a second unit with Lupul and Nik Kulemin, replacing the youthful Nazem Kadri. “We felt that having the flexibility to put Bolland up there gives us another competitive veteran guy to play up against those guys,” Carlyle explained of bumping Bolland up in the lineup.
Finding a quick favourite in the head coach, Bolland sparked the unit, beating Steve Mason in tight on a feed from Lupul early in the third before icing the proceedings late with his second of the evening. Shortly after the trade with Chicago went down this past summer, GM Dave Nonis hinted at growth potential for Bolland offensively – he's scored 15 or more three times – an early sampling perhaps of such sentiments on Wednesday night.
“He's a solid player,” Lupul noted of Bolland, who played 16 minutes. “I knew that playing against him, watching him in the playoffs a lot. He's going to do things right in his own end … [And] he showed he can go to the net and finish as well.”
4. Bernier impressions
Lupul observed before the game that Bernier oozed “calm” in the crease, both in handling incoming shots and limiting rebounds. Also noticeable to the 30-year-old was Bernier's proficiency with the puck. “He's really confident handling the puck which I think can help our defence out a lot going back to retrieve pucks,” the winger said, prior to Wednesday's match with the Flyers. “He's pretty good at getting out there behind [the net] and hitting the open man.”
Added Cody Franson of that ability, “I think anytime a goalie has confidence handling a puck, it's going to help us. It doesn't make us go back quite as much for pucks and it can help us spread their offence out a little bit. That's definitely a plus.”
5. Fraser injury, Rielly opening?
Mere seconds after he laid a high-stick on Zac Rinaldo did Mark Fraser take an awkward hit from former Leaf Jay Rosehill. Fraser twisted his left knee on the play and did not return. He left the Wells Fargo Center on crutches and will have a further assessment done on Thursday. An injury to the Ottawa native could spell an opening for Morgan Rielly, who sat in the press-box for a second straight night.
“Right now they want him to practice and keep picking up some things at practice,” Lupul said of the 19-year-old Rielly. “He's going to be in there eventually. Obviously they didn't keep him here from junior to sit in the press-box all year so he's going to get his opportunity and it's his job to be ready and I think he will be.”
Special Teams Capsule
Quote of the Night
“The one call on Colton Orr, I don't know. I'm not going to get myself fined but holy crow. Giroux spun to turn around and fell and we got a penalty for it.”
-Randy Carlyle on the penalties his club faced against the Flyers, including an early tripping call to Colton Orr.
The Leafs host the Senators in their home opener on Saturday.