Jonathan Bernier’s season is turning into quite the story and it’s only December.
Sent down by the Leafs on a conditioning stint that was more to do with his mental well-being than any physical injury, Bernier recorded his third straight shutout Friday evening for the Toronto Marlies.
It set’s a franchise record for consecutive shutouts by a Marlies goaltender, surpassing the double shutout Jussi Rynnas recorded back in January of 2012.
The Marlies defense should not be overlooked however, as Bernier has not seen 30 shots in a game yet and this was his busiest night so far in facing 27 shots.
It was a penalty ridden game up until the last half of the final period, with both teams guilty of squandering a number of good opportunities on the man advantage.
Utica were ruing there luck just 1:40 into the game as Toronto turned over the puck allowing Linden Vey to feed Darren Archibald but the latter found Bernier more than his equal.
In what was a frantic opening twenty minutes, the Marlies responded with efforts from Carrick, Panik and Leivo as barely a whistle was blown or breath taken.
Utica thought they had taken a lead twelve seconds into their second power play, but the goal was waived off to what was clear goaltender interference, though ruled incidental by the officials
The Comets were given another chance with the man advantage inside the last five minutes of the first period, but Alexandre Grenier was denied by Bernier moving swiftly from left to right, while Campbell bravely blocked an absolute rocket from Andrey Pedan.
At even strength it was the Marlies who were the better team and despite spending more time killing penalties than their hosts, the shots favoured Toronto 9-8.
The middle frame was notable for nine minor penalties, though Toronto dominated the opening five minutes at 5 v 5.
No more so than the line of Kapanen-Arcobello-Hyman, who hemmed the Comets deep inside their zone for well over a minute but were unable to provide the killer touch.
Utica’s game plan was to engage physically with Toronto and that paid off as Clune was called for high-sticking. Bernier would twice be called into action as he continually denied the home team any second opportunities.
Nylander missed a great chance seconds after the penalty expired. Missing the net when in all alone with a backhand effort.
Toronto were the next team to think they had scored on a mad scramble in the crease but it was once again waived off without the need for a video review.
From the nine minute mark until the 16th, seven penalties were called by the officials but neither team could find a way to break the deadlock.
Carrick the closest for the Marlies with a short-handed attempt while Utica’s best efforts came from Grenier (blocked by Percy) and Blair Jones (denied by Bernier).
It should have been 1-0 to Utica with two minutes to play in the second period after they had shown resilience to kill a two man penalty. Zalewski exited the box and took a long outlet pass in his stride and on an odd-man rush, he found Subban in space on the left.
Out like a shot to meet the young defenseman was Bernier, who closed down the angle so quickly that he made a terrific save look relatively simple.
Toronto responded with a 2-on-1 break of their own, Frattin choosing to shoot but Richard Bachman made the save. The rebound looked certain to be put home by Leipsic but he was hauled down from behind. The play continued and Nylander would be the next to be denied by Bachman.
Toronto were looking for more than one penalty on the play as Campbell had his stick broken but the officials waved away the protests.
Beginning the third on the power play, Toronto were gifted a two man advantage as another questionable call from the officials led to Pedan being called for holding.
The Marlies were guilty of trying to be far too cute with the extra men, barely testing Bachman, and Utica survived the penalty with relative ease to the delight of the home crowd who were giving their team a standing ovation.
The officials then evened up the calls with a soft looking roughing verdict on Carrick.
Toronto killed the penalty and the officials would keep their whistles firmly in check for the rest of the game from that point on.
Forgotten in the Bernier hype would be the performance of Bachman between the pipes for Utica, who was rightly was awarded the second star. At the nine minute mark he committed robbery in turning aside Hyman and then Carrick on the rebound effort when a goal looked a certainty after a total breakdown from the home team.
Just ninety seconds later and Toronto finally broke down Utica’s resistance.
Nylander saw his attempted cross ice feed denied but Leivo was able to pick up the puck behind the net. Keeping his head up, Leivo showed patience to wait for Panik crashing the net and picked him out perfectly. The Slovakian right winger did the rest, scoring for the third consecutive game.
Utica pushed hard but didn’t look like tying the game up until they pulled Bachman for an extra attacker with 1:45 remaining. They had Toronto running around and forced them into icing the puck with 56 seconds left on the clock. Controlling the play after winning the resultant offensive zone face-off win, Utica laid the puck back for Subban but his effort rang off the iron.
The sweetest sound for Bernier and Toronto, who secured the victory with an empty net goal from Rich Clune.
Post Game Notes:
Jonathan Bernier has now not been beaten on 70 shots while wearing a Marlies uniform.
Bernier’s third straight shutout is the fifth of the season overall for the Marlies, Sparks with the first two.
Richard Panik’s goal was his seventh of the season and his 20th point.
With an assist on the game winner, Nylander registered his 30th point of the season.
On Saturday night, Toronto will face a Syracuse team who fell 3-1 in Albany Friday evening, and have now lost four straight games. Antoine Bibeau joins the team Saturday morning and is expected to play.