PORTLAND — The Portland Pirates will have to find a way to get the puck past the best goaltender in the AHL in order to move out of the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs.
Portland, the second-ranked team in the Atlantic Division, will host the third-ranked Manchester Monarchs Friday in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series, and the Pirates expect to face former Lewiston Maineiac goalie Jonathan Bernier.
Bernier last week was named the AHL’s top goaltender after leading the league in shutouts with nine and save percentage with .936. Bernier, who spent four seasons in Maine while playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, also finished second to Hamilton’s Cedrick Desjardins in goals-against average, allowing 2.03 goals per game.
“There’s no secret to him,” Portland captain Brad Larsen said of Bernier. “He makes a lot of big saves for them.”
“If he sees the puck, he most likely will stop it because he’s a very good goalie,” said Portland defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani, who spent three seasons playing against Bernier in junior hockey while a member of the Prince Edward Island Rocket.
The Pirates already have seen a lot of Bernier this season. He started in seven of the 10 games Portland played against the Monarchs during the regular season. While logging a 2-2-3 record against the Pirates, Bernier has allowed 13 goals and compiled a .934 save percentage.
“Obviously, you have to get a lot of shots and get some traffic in front of him,” Gragnani said.
When it comes to beating Bernier, traffic tends to be the operative word.
“The key here is to get to the net, get traffic and get loose pucks,” Larsen said.
“He makes a lot of the first saves. Hopefully, there’s a few rebounds and we can sniff those out and put them in.”
“You’ve got to get in front of him,” said Portland forward Mark Mancari, who scored a team-high 28 goals during the regular season. “You’ve got to have guys in front of him and shoot the puck and create chances.
“He will give up rebounds, but he’s good on the first shot. If you can get some traffic in front of him, it’s good for us.”
“We’re going to have to just be an assertive offensive team and try to capitalize when we do get a chance,” Pirates Coach Kevin Dineen said.
It looks like the Pirates will start the playoff series without 2010 AHL rookie of the year Tyler Ennis and 2009 rookie of the year Nathan Gerbe, who were called up two weeks ago by the NHL parent Buffalo Sabres. Between them, they’ve had six goals and 14 assists against the Monarchs this season,
“When they’ve been out, other players have relished the opportunity to play a higher offensive role,” Dineen said. “When you get your chance, you take advantage of it. We saw a lot of that in the last half of the year.”
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: