ST. PAUL, Minn. – Jonathan Bernier doesn’t have the luxury of getting into a regular rhythm for the Los Angeles Kings. The clear backup to Jonathan Quick, Bernier can sometimes go weeks between starts.
Yet when he does play, Bernier is still expected to be sharp, make saves and win games. On Tuesday night, Bernier looked like an everyday goalie, shutting out Minnesota 4-0 in a game with playoff implications for the Kings.
Despite being only his second start in February, Bernier stopped 26 shots, secured his first victory since Jan. 9, and didn’t give up a goal for the first time since shutting out Edmonton last March.
The performance came at a crucial time for Los Angeles (29-23-12). After losing five of six games, the victory over the Wild allowed the Kings to move into a tie with Dallas and Colorado for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“I thought he was awesome, he was the best player on the ice,” Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said. “It’s great for him. The last five or six minutes, the team played for their goalie because he’s given us a real good opportunity to win the game.”
Bernier found out after Monday’s loss at Nashville that he would be starting against the Wild.
“It’s not easy, but that’s my job,” Bernier said. “I’ve got to make sure I’m ready every time I step in if I want to get back in.”
Bernier’s fifth career shutout was largely free of drama. Minnesota (28-26-9) had very few sustained stretches in the Los Angeles zone and had few good scoring chances. The best opportunity for the Wild came on a second-period three-on-two break, but Bernier stopped Tom Gilbert’s shot from the slot.
“We kept everything to the outside,” Bernier said. “On that (power play) in the second period, I knew that was a big (penalty kill) for us and the boys did a heck of a job. From there after, we had a lot of confidence and we shut the door.”
It didn’t hurt that the Kings jumped on the Wild early. One night after feeling like they missed opportunities against the Predators, Los Angeles scored 44 seconds into the game and led 3-0 after the first period.
Justin Williams scored the initial quick goal when he tipped a shot from the point and the puck bounced through the legs of goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who stopped just 11 shots for Minnesota.
Dwight King gave the Kings a 2-0 lead midway in the first period as Los Angeles took advantage of a Minnesota defensive mistake. Anze Kopitar found King all alone in front of the net and he quickly converted.
Kopitar stretched the lead to 3-0 late in the first period when he ran a perfect give-and-go with Dustin Brown. Brown had a pair of first-period assists for the Kings.
That cushion was more than enough for Bernier against the Wild.
“It’s good to play with a lead,” Bernier said. “Everyone was calmer, we could just play our style. As a team, we really came out strong. We knew it was a really big two points for us.”
While Los Angeles was happy to have won a game against another team in the Western Conference playoff race, the Wild were disappointed after a game filled with turnovers and defensive mistakes.
“You create your own breaks in this game, we didn’t do that,” Minnesota’s Kyle Brodziak said. “We didn’t create any breaks because we didn’t deserve any and earn any. It’s another game where we started on our heels and they took it to us and we didn’t fight back.”
Offensively things weren’t any better.
“We had nothing offensively,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “There was too many things missing in our game to even have a sniff offensively. Puck support, battle level, going into hard areas, making plays, executing. It’s kind of a long list.”
Notes: Brown has nine points (5 goals, 4 assists) in the past five games. … Los Angeles C Jeff Carter is still looking for his first point since being acquired from Columbus last week. … Minnesota D Tom Gilbert, a Twin Cities native the Wild acquired Monday from Edmonton, was called for a holding penalty just 4:59 into the game. … The Kings, a popular preseason pick to make the NHL playoffs, went 5-7-2 in February. Minnesota, which had the best record in the NHL at one point in December, was 4-7-2. The Wild is 8-19-6 since a Dec. 10 victory at Phoenix. … Minnesota plays four of its next five games on the road.