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Bernier saves 34 shots in SO loss to Buffalo

Jonathan Bernier answers Babcock by standing tall in net, earning third star of the game.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Bernier was tested hard in this contest against the Buffalo Sabres, coming away with a 2-1 shootout loss, but saving 34 shots to earn third star of the game. Behind a team that was missing Jake Gardiner, Bernier's shut-out lasted until the last four minutes of the 3rd, when a wrister from Evander Kane found its way through traffic high over Bernier's shoulder. PA Paranteau also proved his worth, netting the first regulation goal and the Maple Leafs' lone shootout goal.

Bernier came into the game haunted by his three previous starts this season, a shaky record exemplified by the Jimmy Howard shut-out in game two against Detroit, during which Bernier gave up four goals on 22 shots. This game also highlighted Bernier's issues with giving up early goals, such as the Justin Abdelkader power play goal less than two minutes into the Detroit match, and a Dylan Larkin goal that came just 20 seconds into the second period. In the 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Bernier gave up two goals in under a minute.

After these starts, it's no wonder that news spread about Mike Babcock talking to Bernier about his game. On Monday, Babcock told reporters that the Leafs needed him to improve, saying: "We need him to be better, especially early in back-to-backs. You can’t get down two goals. He’s a big boy, he knows that. You can’t spot the opposition two. We talked about it today. I’m not a big believer in putting your head in the sand and ignoring what’s going on. I like to address it. When you have the physical capabilities he has got, [slow starts] are the mental side and that [affects] everything until you get it looked after."

Babcock attributed this to a coaching and conditioning issue, rather than Bernier's lack of skill. "For Bernier, it's not a skill issue. He's obviously tight at the start of games. He's got to get that looked after so he can be the best he can be."

Bernier responded: "He challenged me behind the doors, too. I've got to be better. You can't take it too personally. He just wants you to be better and I just tried to do my best effort tonight." He also answered with a nearly perfect game, improving his SV% to .924. Will his work stay consistent? This question remains going forward, although Bernier seems to have stepped up enough to maintain his starting position.

The other notable player in the loss was Nazem Kadri, in positive and negative ways. Although he shone during several strong shifts, he also gave up the tying goal to Kane after falling on the ice in his own end, turning over the puck. Kadri had two excellent chances in overtime, one stopped by the crossbar, and one robbed by Chad Johnson. His defensive play was also evident, especially on a borderline-dubious hit on Evander Kane.

Last night, Ari Yanover described the hit thus:

So, here's the scene: Evander Kane is trying to get a handle on the puck in the neutral zone. Nazem Kadri doesn't want that, though; he wants the puck. So he goes to hit Kane, just as Kane is going to move it out of his reach and collect it later.

Kane's body position changes, head going up. Kadri comes in, and just unnecessarily moves his shoulder - right into Kane's head.

There was no penalty on the play, and since Kane is still in the game, he appears to be fine. But regardless of intent, that's a headshot, and Kadri can't do that, innocuous neutral zone play or not.

The hit was later ruled clean.

The Leafs take on the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday to complete the four-game road trip. Leafs' record to date is 1-3-2.