NEW YORK – Jonathan Bernier had one thing running through his mind amid an avalanche of shots in what was a wildly tilted second period for the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
"Trying to breathe," he said with a grin.
Bernier stopped 42 of 43 shots on Monday night, including all 22 in a hectic middle frame, his heroic performance propelling the Leafs toward an undue point in their final game before the Christmas break.
"I thought Bernie stood on his head and gave us a chance to steal another point," said Randy Carlyle after the 2-1 shootout defeat, the team's 10th loss in the past 11 games on the road.
Nudging a puck past the pads of rookie Cam Talbot, Nazem Kadri evened the score at one with less than two minutes to play in regulation. His efforts would have been for not if it wasn't for the sterling play of the 25-year-old between the pipes.
The Rangers outshot the Leafs 22-5 in a penalty-filled second frame, firing 18 shots in a span of just 12 minutes.
"We had a bit of a rough stretch there," Kadri said, "but that's why we've got great goaltenders. We weren't worried because we know Bernie can hang in there and make some big stops for us. Obviously we've got to find a way to tone that down, but he gave us a chance to win the game."
Toronto goaltending has been that kind of rock through hard times all season, the lone bit of solace amid continued spurts of inconsistency. The bookends of Monday's performance were solid for the Leafs, nearly undone though by a second frame under siege.
"I'm just trying to keep it close," said Bernier of the experience in the second. "I know we're going to score one goal and I'm just trying to do my job and go shot by shot."
It was the fourth 40-plus save performance for Bernier in 22 starts this season. He now boasts a .929 save percentage on the year, good for seventh-best in the NHL. But the Quebec native wouldn't go so far to say he'll stole a point for his team. In fact, he couldn't help but lament the two goals that snuck by in the shootout.
"I didn't steal one," he said. "I didn't get the extra point. When you give up two goals in the shootout most of the time you'll lose so I've got to be better in shootouts."
1. Bernier Shootout Struggles
Bernier dropped to 3-8 lifetime in the shootout and 2-4 this season. His career .500 save percentage is amongst the worst of any active goaltender (tied for 68th in a class of 77). He was beaten on this night by Mats Zuccarello, who flipped a shot over his left shoulder, and Derek Stepan, who potted the eventual winner.
"I thought the first two I was a little bit impatient," said Bernier. "I've got to go get that extra point for my team."
2. Road Woes
The road has offered nothing but misery for the Leafs since the start of November. With Monday's shootout defeat, they've now dropped 10 of the last 11 games away from the ACC (1-6-4), outscored 36-20 in that span.
Their lone victory in that stretch came on Dec. 7, a 4-3 shootout triumph over the Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa.
Now 6-8-4, the Leafs have the fourth-worst road mark in the Eastern Conference.
3. Means to Victory
Saved often by the efforts of Bernier and James Reimer, the Leafs now sit 13-1-2 on the year when they've yielded two goals or less. Conversely, their record is just 5-15-3 when they've allowed three goals or more.
4. Christmas Break
"This is the dog days of hockey when you get close to the 40-game mark," said Carlyle.
And with a three-day break lying in wait for the holidays, he and the Leafs are just hoping to reset with an increasingly taxing second half ahead. "It's been a real hectic schedule here for the last three weeks, I'll tell you that," Carlyle said of a stretch which saw his team play 12 times in 23 days. "It seems like we play every second day and there's no relaxing time and then there's very limited practice time."
With just one regulation victory in the past 18 games, they'll need to find a path towards improvement.
"You just can't look at all the negatives," said Kadri, who scored his 11th goal of the year in defeat. "You've got to look at the positives. I know that's a bit cliché, but it's the right thing to do. You also point out the negatives and you go to the chalkboard and you work on it. But I think a few of those games we've played some of our better games of the year and still come out with losses. That's just how this league works."
5. Lengthy Shift
For one stretch in the Rangers' dominant second frame, Dion Phaneuf was caught on the ice for a taxing two minutes and 56 seconds. New York fired five shots on goal before Peter Holland was finally whistled for roughing, the first of four penalties for the Leafs in the period.
"Not very good," said Phaneuf, asked how he felt during the near-three minute shift. "When you get stuck out that long it's tough.
"I was trying to change obviously. I would've liked to not get stuck out there for that long, but it's part of what happens. Sometimes teams are able to hem another team in and that's what happened tonight."
.929 – Save percentage for Jonathan Bernier this season, seventh-best in the NHL.
3-8 – Career record in the shootout for Bernier.
1 – Regulation victory for the Leafs since Nov. 19.
1-6-4 – Leafs record on the road in the past 11 games.
5-4 – Shootout record for the Leafs this season.
13-1-2 – Leafs record when yielding two goals or less this season.
Special Teams Capsule
Season: 22.4 per cent (4th)
Season: 78.4 per cent (26th)
Quote of the Night
"I didn't steal one. I didn't get the extra point. When you give up two goals in the shootout most of the time you'll lose so I've got to be better in shootouts."
-Jonathan Bernier, following his 42-save performance.
The Leafs are off three days for the Christmas break, returning to host Buffalo on Friday night.