ANAHEIM – The Leafs knew this one meant a little bit more to their head coach and they required some heroics from Jonathan Bernier to capture it.
Bernier made 43 saves – including 34 in the final two periods – as Toronto landed a statement victory over one of the league's top teams, dealing Randy Carlyle's former Ducks squad just their sixth loss in regulation at home this season.
Scorching since early January, the Leafs have now snatched up points in 17 of the past 20 games (14-3-3), starting a challenging five-game road trip with a bang in California.
Racing out to an unlikely 3-0 lead on this night, they needed more of the usual from Bernier as the Ducks pushed back with the expected fury of the league's second-best team. The 25-year-old stopped 18 of 19 shots in an increasingly one-sided middle frame before adding another 16 saves to his resume in the third.
Seemingly better the busier he gets, Bernier owns a sparkling .947 save percentage when he faces 40 shots or more in a game this season. A sponge on this night, he improved to 8-2-2 in such situations on the year.
“It's crazy how the rebounds, they just kind of suck into him,” said Tyler Bozak, who had the game's first goal. “He's one of the few goalies I've seen who can control his rebounds so well and doesn't let many come off him. He was a huge reason why we got the win tonight like he has been all year.”
Quiet in his movements and a step ahead of the play in many instances, Bernier rarely required the big save, instead in prime position to absorb most that came his way.
There was the stop on Rickard Rakell after a Phil Kessel neutral zone turnover, the glove save on Patrick Maroon high-slot and the Corey Perry short-side attempt on an early third period man advantage for the Ducks.
All but one were turned aside.
“I'm not a goalie so I don't really know how they think,” said Paul Ranger, “but as a defenceman you anticipate plays and I think he's very good at anticipating plays from the offensive opponents. He just seems to know that it's going to happen. He knows where they're going to shoot.”
Also helped by 24 blocked shots, Bernier rose to fourth in the NHL (tie) with a .926 save percentage. Like Carlyle on Monday, he'll visit his former team in Los Angeles for the first time on Thursday night.
Making his return to Anaheim for the first time as Leafs head coach, Carlyle was clearly revved up to face his old squad. His players sensed as much.
“I think he might've been a little more nervous for this one than the other ones,” said Bozak, “but we're happy we could get one for him.”
“There's satisfaction when you beat your former hockey club,” Carlyle admitted. “I'm not going to hide that fact.”
1. Carlyle's Return I
Strolling up to the Honda Center, where he spent seven seasons as the Ducks coach, Carlyle couldn't help but feel sentimental on Monday morning. He saw a familiar friend in the “big, happy” parking lot attendant and another gentleman who washes the players' cars, most of cars newly replaced since Carlyle was dismissed in Dec. 2011.
“It's always nice to come back and see the people you spent seven-plus years with,” Carlye said ahead of Monday's clash, calling himself “part of the enemy” now as the Leafs bench boss. “It's special.”
Carlyle led the bench here when the Ducks captured their first and only Stanley Cup in 2007. And though he doesn't wear the ring from that epic summer much – “I kind of look at it as flaunting” – the memories and achievement remain an obvious point of pride.
“I was very fortunate to coach the players that were here,” he said of a group that included Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. “We had a great group of players and we had a lot of things go our way. We had a lot of success and we enjoyed it. It was great for the franchise. But in reality it's the players that go out there and earn it. The coaches, you swing the gate.”
Selanne and Perry were among the current Ducks who looked back regretfully at the manner in which Carlyle departed. Anaheim started the season well enough then – winning four of their first five – before spiraling into the chaos of 16 losses in 19 games (3-12-4).
Carlyle was dismissed on Dec. 1 and replaced by Bruce Boudreau.
“He was a great coach here and it was unfortunate the way he had to go,” said Perry. “You can't fire all the players. We feel bad for what really happened.”
“After all you still have to remember that the players are on the ice,” added Selanne. “And when you have a coach that you won the Stanley Cup together and a lot of the same players and you can't succeed it's also a [leadership] problem that you couldn't turn things around. There were a lot of things that went wrong.”
Carlyle received a standing ovation from the Ducks faithful during the first TV timeout.
2. Then & Now
Carlyle believes he's calmed some since leaving the sunny California skies, also trying to offer a more positive outlook to his players where possible. Joffrey Lupul, who played for Carlyle twice with the Ducks and now with the Leafs, offered one subtle and maybe more revealing change in his head coach from then to now.
“If anything I think now he maybe relies on his assistant coaches a little more,” said Lupul, “gives them a little more control to chip in where they may, lets them talk in the room a lot more whereas in Anaheim he seemed to, especially initially, control everything from the power-play to penalty kill. Now I think he's got a really good staff here and has a lot of faith in them.”
3. Bozak Marksmanship
Tyler Bozak has been the most accurate shooter in the NHL to date this season. The 27-year-old scored his 15th of the year on Monday – snapping a long power-play slide – bumping up his league-leading shooting percentage to 22 per cent. Though buoyed by an uptick in luck, Bozak has actually proven an efficient shooter his entire career. He entered this season with a career 15.5 per cent mark.
Bozak had three points against the Ducks, now with 40 points in 42 games.
4. Trending Upward
Still third from the bottom, the Toronto penalty kill is trending in the right direction as the stretch drive heats up. Stuffing the Ducks on all four opportunities Monday the unit improved to 88 per cent in the past 12 games.
“Obviously your goaltender is always your best penalty killer,” said Carlyle. “I thought Bernie made some big stops and we were able to box out and there wasn't a lot of second and third opportunities.”
On the other side of the special teams equation, the Leaf power-play snapped an 0-19 slide when Bozak tapped in a Dion Phaneuf pass in the first frame.
“It was nice to get out there on the power-play and not give one up and get one instead,” said Bozak with a grin.
5. Carlyle's Return II
Carlyle was just finishing his career when Selanne joined him in Winnipeg as a rookie. The two would connect again 12 years later when Carlyle took over for Mike Babcock behind the bench in Anaheim following the second lockout.
Selanne was joining the Ducks for a second go-around following a failed one-year experiment in Colorado. He was battling back from knee surgery, but was given an opportunity that year under Carlyle.
“He was so great for me,” Selanne said of Carlyle. “[He] gave me another chance. Very thankful for that.”
The now 43-year-old rewarded that faith in the 2005-06 season, scoring 40 goals and 90 points.
.947 – Save percentage for Jonathan Bernier when facing 40 shots or more.
8 – Blocked shots for Dion Phaneuf against the Ducks.
0-19 – Skid without a power-play goal for the Leafs, snapped with Tyler Bozak's 15th this year in the opening frame.
22% – Shooting percentage for Bozak this season, no. 1 in the NHL.
19-7 – Shots advantage for the Ducks in Monday's second period.
35 – Points in the past 21 games for Phil Kessel, who had three more points in Anaheim, up to six in two games versus the Ducks this season.
8-2-2 – Record for Bernier this season when facing 40 shots or more.
23:56 – Team-leading ice-time for Carl Gunnarsson, which included nearly five minutes on the penalty kill.
Special Teams Capsule
Season: 21% (6th)
Quote of the Night
“There's satisfaction when you beat your former hockey club. I'm not going to hide that fact.”
-Randy Carlyle, after beating his former team for the first time in Anaheim
The Leafs visit the Sharks on Tuesday night in the second leg of a five-game road trip.