Bernier Resuscitating Leafs

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Jan. 1) – Message to Leafs Nation: I don’t want to say I told you so. But… dammit, I TOLD YOU SO!

Time and again in this corner – and as recently as ten days ago (here: 1cLn3ll) – I have strongly implored Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle to stop with the revolving goalie nonsense. Recite along with Howard: “Contending and championship teams in the National Hockey League, with very few exceptions, deploy an irrefutable No. 1 netminder.” I’m not going to rhyme off the post-expansion (since 1967) roll-call again; you can review it for yourself by clicking on the link, above. But, I will remind you that Leafs have garnered points in five consecutive games (3-0-2) since Carlyle replaced James Reimer with Jonathan Bernier for the second period of a 5-4 shootout loss to Detroit, Dec. 21, at Air Canada Centre. Bernier has since played every minute – helping Leafs, astoundingly, to a regulation-time victory over Carolina three nights ago (Toronto has two-such wins in the past 21 games).

The point I’m making is that Leafs – as much as any team in the NHL – require the assurance of a true No. 1 goalie. Given the defensive odyssey in front of Bernier and Reimer almost every night, and the habitual 40-plus shots against per game, Leafs (and their opponents) have to know there is unwavering reliability between the pipes. Or, something very close to it. Bernier was acquired from Los Angeles in June for that express purpose. Performing “Musical Goalies” – as Carlyle had until the winter solstice – confused everyone… fans, media and players. Leafs were plummeting in the Atlantic Division (4-8-2 in 12 games prior to Dec. 21) and lacked the critical stability achieved by a common presence in goal. Now that coach Randy has gotten with the program, his team is starting to crawl out of the muck.

Bernier was solely responsible for a point the Maple Leafs earned while stinking out Madison Square Garden before the Christmas break. And, Toronto fans among the 105,491 liquor-insulated occupants of The Big House in Ann Arbor would have gone home aggravated if not for more Bernier heroics in the Bridgestone Winter Classic earlier today.

As is custom, the visiting team from Canada was out-shot 43-26 by the Red Wings but managed to prevail, 3-2, in yet another shootout. If Bernier’s teammates somehow learn to protect a one-goal margin late in regulation, there’s no telling how high the Maple Leafs could soar.

JONATHAN BERNIER AND HENRIK ZETTERBERG RUB ELBOWS LATE IN THE THIRD PERIOD OF THE BRIDGESTONE WINTER CLASSIC IN ANN ARBOR, MICH. THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS GOALIE STOPPED 41 SHOTS IN REGULATION AND OVERTIME. NBC IMAGE

These Leaf goalie blogs have come with a disclaimer: There is no irrefutable evidence than Reimer cannot perform effectively in the No. 1 role. He did so in the abbreviated schedule last season and – who knows? – if Leafs had prevailed in Game 7 of their playoff quarrel with Boston, perhaps David Nonis would not have made the deal for Bernier. Negotiation between the Maple Leafs and Kings, however, dated to the summer before the lockout, when Brian Burke was still running the Blue and White. So, the trade with L.A. clearly did not come out of left field. It is therefore likely that Nonis had “upgrade in goal” on the front page of his to-do list even before the third-period calamity at TD Garden.

Now that Carlyle appears to have settled – dare we say – on Bernier as the Leafs No. 1 man, the So-Cal swap is bearing fruit. If the coach can resist temptation, his crop could be bountiful.

“TO THE MOON, ALICE!” – As I mentioned on Twitter earlier today: Now that Leafs have Tim Gleason (acquired from Carolina for John-Michael Liles), if they can get Keith Carney and Jeff Norton to un-retire, we’ll have the all-Honeymooners team here in the Big Smoke. To which my old Toronto Star traveling pal, Paul Hunter, added: “Don’t forget about Jim Ralph in the broadcast booth.” Not to be outdone, a Twitter follower – @MonikaMoravan – chimed in with: “[Leafs] could call up/un-retire Brock Meadows and Mike Randolph.” And, didn’t Bob Joyce play for Boston, Washington and Winnipeg from 1987-93? For those unaware (or totally confused), these are names associated with the hilarious sit-com from the 1950’s about a scheming, wannabe bus driver; his good-natured pal (and sewer worker), and their wives. The Honeymooners – as per the above-mentioned list – starred Jackie GLEASON as RALPH Kramden; Art CARNEY as Ed NORTON; Audrey MEADOWS as Ralph’s wife, Alice and JOYCE RANDOLPH as Ed’s wife, Trixie. Do you get it now?

JACKIE GLEASON (LEFT) AND ART CARNEY PERFORM DURING ONE OF THE “CLASSIC-39” HONEYMOONERS EPISODES FILMED IN THE 1955-56 TELEVISION SEASON.

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