TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs could certainly use the injured Jonathan Bernier and Paul Ranger against the St. Louis Blues, but they won’t guarantee that either player will back to face the top team in the Western Conference.
Bernier, who has missed five straight games with a groin injury, and Ranger, who has missed the past two with neck soreness, skated Monday at Air Canada Centre. But that’s far from a guarantee either will be in the lineup to help the Leafs snap out of this potentially season-altering losing streak.
“I would say both players are going to have to give us the green light to indicate to us when they are available,” coach Randy Carlyle said.
Bernier reported more progress in his sixth straight day on the ice following some time off to rest the groin problem he aggravated March 13 in Los Angeles. Of course he hedged that by adding it’s “still early to say” if he could be healthy for Toronto’s game against the Blues on Tuesday night.
It’s up to the medical staff, according to Bernier, who conceded he suffered a setback Friday by pushing himself to be ready for the weekend. Still, there are things the 25-year-old has to experience first.
“Feel that I can make a split save or that I can make that stretch save and not think about it, I guess,” Bernier said.
Though there have been more factors than just goaltending, the Leafs have struggled in Bernier’s absence.
Counting his two periods in relief of Bernier at the Kings and his five straight starts, James Reimer is 1-5-0 with a 3.65 goals-against average and an .894 save percentage. In just the starts, Reimer has a 4.22 GAA and .870 save percentage and was pulled from Sunday night’s loss at the New Jersey Devils in favour of Drew MacIntyre.
But Carlyle insisted his team’s recent play would not affect any decisions made on Bernier.
“The question is does he feel comfortable or any player feel comfortable that he can come back in and give you a hundred per cent,” Carlyle said. “Obviously there’s outside pressures that come when you’re not having the success that we’re not having right now, but that’s something that has to be a sidebar. The player’s health is paramount.”
If Bernier misses the Blues game, it’ll either be Reimer’s sixth straight start or the first of MacIntyre’s NHL career at the age of 30. Carlyle did not reveal any of his thinking when asked if MacIntyre’s 14-save performance against the Devils in relief of Reimer would play a role in the decision.
“You make the decision who you feel is going to give you the best opportunity to have success in the game,” he said. “That’s not going to change. What happened last game, surely you take that into consideration. But the most important thing is that the individual that we choose to represent us at that position tomorrow night, we feel confident he can get the job done.”
Ranger had played in nine straight games and 12 of 13 before he suffered a neck injury after being hit by Tampa Bay Lightning forward Alex Killorn last week. The 29-year-old skated for the second consecutive time Monday, according to Carlyle, who said the result of the hit was not as bad as it first looked.
“Obviously the hit that he took from Killorn in the Tampa game looked pretty severe, but the situation is that no concussion-like symptoms, none of that stuff,” Carlyle said. “More along the lines of just a stiff neck, jammed his neck up.”
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