Bernier brilliant as Leafs chase Miller but need to hang on to beat Canucks

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier, right, makes a save against Vancouver Canucks forward Chris Higgins (20) during first period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Saturday, December 6, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO - Ryan Miller sat on the bench and didn't look up. Already chased from the game, he had to listen to the call of Sidney Crosby beating him for the gold medal at the Olympics four years ago as it was replayed on the Air Canada Centre's video screen.

It was just that kind of night for Miller and the Vancouver Canucks, who carried the play but left with a hard-luck 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I just didn't make the saves the guys needed," said Miller, who got the hook after allowing four goals on 14 shots.

The Canucks out-shot the Leafs 46-28 but were stifled by goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who was stellar in making 44 saves for the victory.

"We can thank him for the win tonight," defenceman Stephane Robidas said. "It's one of those that he stole the game for us."

Bernier was on his game early and often. Two crucial saves early, one on a point-blank shot from Radim Vrbata and then another on a back-hander by Alexandre Edler were ones coach Randy Carlyle said "really saved our butts."

It helped that Canucks defenceman Yannick Weber put the puck in his own net on a goal that was credited to Jake Gardiner and that Richard Panik turned Kevin Bieksa inside out and scored less than a minute later to give the Leafs some room to breathe.

But Carlyle called Bernier "the catalyst," and it was impossible for anyone to argue.

"Tonight I felt really good. I was seeing pucks well," Bernier said, citing his familiarity with the Canucks as a reason for his success. "I was just trying to stay patient tonight and stay on my feet as much as possible."

In addition to Gardiner and Panik, Peter Holland and Joffrey Lupul also scored for the Leafs (14-9-3), who rebounded well from a poor effort Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils. David Clarkson added an empty-netter for his eighth goal of the season.

Daniel Sedin and Christopher Tanev had Vancouver's goals in a game the Canucks believed they deserved better despite falling into a deep hole.

"It felt like we could've won this game," captain Henrik Sedin said. "Even down 4-0 I thought we created enough chances to come back in the game. We hit a few posts and weren't able to score more than two."

Backup goaltender Eddie Lack stopped all 13 shots he faced in relief for the Canucks (18-8-1), who continue their Eastern Conference tour Sunday night at the Ottawa Senators. Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins didn't say which goalie would be in net against the Senators.

What Desjardins did do was absolve Miller of some blame. It was a rare bad night for him against the Leafs, as he entered with a 32-15-3 record, 2.47 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in his career vs. Toronto.

"He's probably used up his luck in some of those other games," Desjardins said. "It (didn't go) his way tonight. He's a good goaltender. He had tough shots tonight. It wasn't his fault."

There would've been plenty of blame to go around had the Leafs lost this game. They struggled to generate momentum for much of the first two periods and got into penalty trouble, especially in the second period.

One of those penalties belonged to Robidas for elbowing Canucks forward Shawn Matthias in the head. Robidas said he wasn't trying to hurt Matthias, who left and did not return.

Even with their parade to the penalty box, the Leafs stood tall. Bernier was their best player on the kill as they went six-for-six.

"If you're in games like specifically tonight and your penalty killing doesn't rise to the occasion, your chances of winning are almost nil," Carlyle said. "Our PK guys did a heck of a job for us, and our goalie was outstanding."

It certainly wasn't the sharpest of efforts from the Leafs, who needed a couple of breaks like the Canucks hitting the post and then the cross-bar in quick succession on the power play in the third period. Henrik Sedin believed he and his teammates could win the game if they had scored there to make it 4-3, but Bernier was glad the iron helped him out.

"They got two back-to-back there," Bernier said. "Sometimes you need that luck."

The Leafs could consider themselves lucky to come out of this one with two points. It was an all-too-familiar refrain with them being outshot badly and leaning on Bernier to get the job done.

But again, it worked.

"It's not part of a recipe to have success," Robidas said. "You can't give up over 40 shots and expect to win every night. ... They made some big plays, and again Bernie was there to make key saves at the right time."

Notes — With the empty-netter and an assist, Clarkson registered his first multipoint game with the Leafs. ... Toronto winger David Booth picked up a secondary assist on Panik's goal, his first point of the season. Booth was bought out by the Canucks over the summer. ... Holland's goal was his second in three career games against Vancouver. ... Before the game, the Leafs activated winger Brandon Kozun off long-term injured reserve and placed defenceman Roman Polak on the injured list. Kozun did not play as Panik remained in the lineup.


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