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Maple Leafs have to rely on Bernier with Sparks injured, out 'long-term'

Jared Clinton
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Jonathan Bernier. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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Maple Leafs have to rely on Bernier with Sparks injured, out 'long-term'

Jared Clinton
By:

The Maple Leafs lost goaltender Garret Sparks to a lower-body injury Thursday and he’ll be out “long-term,” said coach Mike Babcock. With James Reimer also on the shelf, Toronto will turn to Jonathan Bernier and hope the struggling netminder can turn his season around.

A dire situation between the pipes for the Maple Leafs got much more alarming Thursday night. In the first period of Toronto’s Thursday tilt with the San Jose Sharks, the Maple Leafs lost goaltender Garret Sparks to a lower-body injury, and coach Mike Babcock said the 22-year-old netminder is likely to be out “long-term.”

Already the Maple Leafs are without James Reimer, 27, who has been Toronto’s starting goaltender for much of the season, and the team has been unable to rely on 27-year-old netminder Jonathan Bernier, who has yet to win a game this season after inking a two-year, $8.3-million contract in the off-season.

Bernier came into Thursday’s game with the Maple Leafs already down 2-0 and fought valiantly, but he, and the team in front of him, came up short as the Sharks skated away with a 5-4 overtime victory. Bernier will now be the starting netminder for a team that is just about fresh out of options, especially considering the uncertainty surrounding Reimer’s groin injury and when he could potentially return.

"He goes in down 2-0 and he does a good job," Babcock told NHL.com’s Mike Brophy about Bernier’s performance post-game. "Let's be honest, he never thought he was playing. He's starting the next game and he's got to dig in and compete and battle. He's got to find his mojo.”

No one knows that better than Bernier. Following yet another overtime loss — he now has a 0-8-3 record this season — Bernier seemed more puzzled than anyone about how things have gone so awry for him this season.

"I don't know what I've done wrong to someone because I can't get that one bounce," Bernier told Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. "I thought I made the saves I had to make. Obviously you want to stop all of it, but I felt pretty good about my game tonight.”

Bernier was coming off of a well-documented stretch of brilliant play during an AHL conditioning stint, but it didn’t take long for that to end. In his final of four AHL games, he allowed five goals against. He allowed five again in his first game back with the Maple Leafs. That led to Babcock giving Sparks Thursday’s start, saying that pucks kept going in which made the Sparks start necessary.

That said, Babcock asserted that Bernier will get the call Saturday. Bernier’s going to have a challenging outing, however, against a Los Angeles Kings team that is red hot and has picked up points in nine of their past 10 games. If he can finally turn in a standout performance, he could start to get his feet under him and turn the tide of his season. If not, it wouldn’t be surprising if Antoine Bibeau get a shot in goal for the Maple Leafs — that is if Reimer's not be healthy enough to play Monday or Tuesday.

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Maple Leafs have to rely on Bernier with Sparks injured, out 'long-term'