Colorado Avalanche: Jonathan Bernier Critical to 2017-2018 Success

DENVER, CO - APRIL 07: Goaltender Jonathan Bernier
DENVER, CO - APRIL 07: Goaltender Jonathan Bernier /

The 2017-2018 Colorado Avalanche have made it to the playoffs, and they wouldn’t be there without Jonathan Bernier. 

The Colorado Avalanche did it! They actually did it! The Avalanche have made the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs after defeating the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night. Of all the unlikely scenarios for this team this season, playoffs had to be at the top of the list.

There are of course many factors that got this team into the playoffs. Nathan MacKinnon has to be at the main factor, entering the Hart Trophy race with his team-leading 97 points. (He wins the trophy for sure if he doesn’t miss eight games). The power play and penalty kill were much improved finishing top 10 and top 5, respectively. Players like Alexander Kerfoot exceeded expectations and became big parts of the offense.

Avs fans saw all of these in play on Saturday, but there is one that stands out as being just as critical. Jonathan Bernier was good on Saturday, and he was good all season.

When Joe Sakic signed Bernier to a one-year deal worth $2.75 million, I was quite skeptical. I had seen him play as John Gibson’s back-up in Anaheim and as a 1A or 1B with James Reimer in Toronto. He didn’t exactly have the greatest reputation as a consistent or big-game performer. He had a steadily declining save percentage since his first season with the Maple Leafs in 2013-2014, even being sent down to the Maple Leaf’s AHL affiliate in his last season with them in 2015-2016.

His performance could partly be blamed because of the team in front of him. The Maple Leafs weren’t exactly the team they are now, but he wasn’t doing himself any favors. I’m sure some hockey fans remember this play….

Editor’s note: To be fair, that’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson, an elite defenseman. And, as we all remember, three-time Cup-champion Corey Crawford once let Brad Stuart score on accident.

There are a number of other soft goals that Bernier let in during his tenure with the Leafs that made fans go crazy (some began calling him ‘Bad Goals Bernier’). Most couldn’t stand him and wanted him shipped out as soon as possible.

Colorado Avalanche
Colorado Avalanche /

Colorado Avalanche

After his time with the Maple Leafs, he moved on to the Ducks. This seemed to be a better place for him to succeed. There would be less pressure on him, as John Gibson was the clear #1 and Bernier would be the back-up. However, after Gibson got hurt in the playoffs against Nashville, Bernier came in and left Ducks fans wanting. He appeared in 4 games and had a save percentage of .873%. It wasn’t nearly good enough, and the Ducks lost in the Western Conference Finals.

I thought the Bernier signing was just a result of a soft goalie market, a lack of goalie depth behind Varlomov, and Colorado not being a hot destination for free agents. Bernier had not left a good impression on Maple Leafs or Ducks fans, and I feared it would become a nightly game of, “Oh great, Bernier is in net. How’s he going to screw this one up?”

Never have I been so happy to be so wrong. Jonathan Bernier has been the definition of steady this season. When Varlomov got hurt for an extended period of time, Bernier stepped in and was rock solid. Just about every night he was in the net, he gave the Avalanche a chance to win. That is really all you can ask of your second goalie.

The Quebec native appeared in 37 games, posting a 2.85 GAA and a .913 save percentage. Throughout the season, he made some highlight reel saves. Here are just a couple.

Of course he let in some softies too, but all goalies give those up during the course of a season.  Bernier just had to be steady, and he was. His stat line for the season is right around league average, and for a team that finished 10th in scoring, that was just right.

I had initially hoped for Varlomov to play in about 60 games, leaving the rest for Bernier. I was worried when Varlomov went down that Bernier wouldn’t be able to hold the fort for very long and eventually, he would start costing the Avs wins. He didn’t, and he even stole a few games when the Avs weren’t scoring.

The 10-game winning streak in January was the period that showed me Bernier was going to help this team make the playoffs. He won nine of those 10 games.

The Avs played two away games during that streak against Dallas and Toronto. Despite the final scores (4-1 and 4-2 respectively), both games were tight during the third period with the Avs scoring to break the tie. Both Dallas and Toronto are offensively gifted teams, so to keep the Avs tied or ahead throughout the third was a great sight to see.

Plus, Bernier winning in Toronto must have driven Leaf fans crazy!

Jonathan Bernier will begin the playoffs as the starter for the Avalanche. He will have a tough test against the Predators, as they boast a deep team and can score with all four lines.

Next: Avs Score 4 1/2 Goals to Beat the Blues

I am looking forward to how he handles the pressure of being the clear starter for a full playoff series, especially against a legitimate contender. If he performs spectacularly and gets the Avs to the next round, I’ll be completely over the moon! If they lose, and even they lose because Bernier wasn’t good, I can’t complain. Bernier was a huge reason the Avs made the playoffs in the first place

Looking forward, I’m excited to see what Bernier has in store for the Avalanche and I think he’s earned himself another contract. Bernier might be exactly what the Avs need — a complement to Varlomov. With their young and improving offense, Bernier has shown he can be a part of this teams future.