Pretty safe to assume Jonathan Bernier
is the Toronto Maple Leafs
' No. 1 goalie now, huh?
Since taking over for teammate James Reimer late in the second period against the Jets in Winnipeg on Jan. 25, Bernier has been the man.
Bernier made his fifth straight start Thursday against Tampa Bay and was the best player in the Leafs' 4-1 win
over the Lightning. He'll likely play again Saturday at home against Vancouver, the final game before the Olympic break.
On Thursday, Bernier was his team's finest player for the second game in a row. Even though the Maple Leafs were humiliated 4-1 by the Panthers in Florida on Tuesday, he played terrifically. It could have been 10-1 if not for his individual effort.
"If you don't have goaltending, you don't have a starting point in the NHL," said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle.
"We're not any different than any other hockey club. Your goaltender is your last line of defence and our guys have given us a chance for the better part of this year."
Toronto had a slow start to the game, but Bernier held the team in the game. The Maple Leafs picked up the pace over the final 40 minutes, perhaps trying to appease their fathers, who made the southern swing with the team.
Bernier was involved in some late-game fireworks when the Lightning's J.T. Brown drove hard to the net and made no attempt to avoid the Maple Leafs stopper. After the inevitable collision, gloves and fists flew in every direction.
Bernier immediately went after Brown and was followed by rugged defenceman Tim Gleason, who tossed punches at Brown and then at defenceman Radko Gudas, who entered the fray to help his teammate.Kulemin the centre of attention
Left-shooting right-winger Nikolai Kulemin was moved to centre for the second half of the game and gave a good account of himself. Don't be surprised to see him there again.
"We felt we could utilize his strength and ability to get on pucks," Clarlyle said. "Obviously it was a little bit of a risk, because he hasn't played there for quite a bit of time, but I talked to him about it this morning and he felt he could do the job. I told him to be strong on the puck down low and do the things you would normally do in terms of being dogged on the puck and being hard to play against."Everybody loves Mason
Mason Raymond scored one of the prettier goals for Toronto to give the Maple Leafs a 1-0 lead at 7:57 of the second period. It started with a dead-eye pass from Nikolai Kulemin to spring him free, and as he drove to the net on a sharp angle Raymond switched to his backhand and snapped it in high.
Raymond, who has earned $10.5 million US in his career, signed with Toronto for $1 million last summer and can be a UFA next summer. He is on pace for 21 goals this season.
Unless the Maple Leafs feel they have somebody in the system who can step in and replace his offence, expect the team to try to re-sign him after the Olympic break.Did you see that?
Checking centre Jay McClement once had back-to-back seasons of 30 and 26 goals in junior, but as a pro has been predominantly a low-scoring checking centre. And a good, one, too.
With his team leading 1-0 early in the third period, McClement drove the net and made one of those nifty fake-to-one-side-and-reach-way-back-to-put-it-in-the-far-side moves. Or the Forsberg Olympic move. In any case, it was a highlight-reel goal
and the game-winner.
"It feels great to contribute a little bit," McClement said.Clarkson continues clicking
David Clarkson has had a difficult year, his first with the Maple Leafs, but seems to be turning a corner. He scored a goal against the Panthers on Tuesday and continued his energetic play Thursday in Tampa Bay. He is displaying a controlled energy and seems to be finding his offensive game.
Clarkson made a great individual play near the midway point of the first period to get himself free, but when he broke in alone and tried to score through the five hole, he was turned back by Lightning stopper Ben Bishop.
Clarkson had another in-tight chance in the third, but was fouled as he got close to the net. He did, however, draw an assist on the McClement goal. All in all, a good night's work.... And then there was Bozak
Tyler Bozak, centre on the top line, also found himself in alone at 15:40 of the second period, but the six-foot-seven Bishop stood tall, making the save. Bozak did score late in the game with an empty-netter on a gracious pass from Phil Kessel.Phaneuf vs. St. Louis
On a day when Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis was named to replaced
injured teammate Steve Stamkos on Team Canada for the Olympic Games, he was given a bit of a scare when he was drilled into the boards early in the game by Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf.
St. Louis was shaken up, but didn't miss a shift. He got even late in the second period, snapping a shot toward the goal that hit Phaneuf in the foot and stung the Toronto defender.
Don't be a stranger, Ranger
The Maple Leafs decided to dress seven defencemen against Tampa Bay and slotted former Lightning Paul Ranger back into the lineup, his first game since Jan. 7.
Ranger had some difficulty getting up to NHL speed after three years out of hockey and one year in the AHL, but was playing well when the coaching staff pulled the plug on him. He was a healthy scratch for 14 games after the Maple Leafs acquired Tim Gleason from Carolina.
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