At this point there’s little doubt about who the Red Wings’ No. 1 goaltender is.
As long as he’s been healthy, and that’s been an issue, Jonathan Bernier has played like the No. 1 and has increasingly earned the bigger share of the workload.
Given the statistics and results, it’s no wonder.
Bernier earned his third consecutive start in Thursday’s 4-3 shootout win in Buffalo. It ended a nine-game losing streak and was the team’s first win since Bernier backstopped back-to-back wins Jan. 7 and 10 against Montreal and Ottawa before getting hurt.
“Bernie’s been good for a long time, and he was really good in the third (period Thursday) when he needed to be,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He made big saves at critical moments. We only had one real chance (in overtime) and they had the rest of them.
“Bernie played real well. That’s what it takes in this league and he’s given us that for a while and hadn’t got rewarded. It was good for him to get rewarded (with the victory).”
Bernier was effective in losses to the New York Rangers and Philadelphia within the last week, but the Wings were shut out both times. They finally provided Bernier with some offense in Buffalo.
“Bernie has been so big for us lately and he played another solid game; he made saves he had to and kept us in it,” said forward Dylan Larkin, who scored two goals.
As Bernier has gradually assumed the No. 1 role, he’s thrived on the workload. Throughout Bernier’s career, he’s generally played his best hockey when he’s gotten a bigger role and more playing time.
Injuries have often dented that playing time, as staying healthy has been a challenge – and that has been no different this season.
But when he’s healthy and getting consistent work in net, Bernier has played his best hockey.
“It’s nice, it’s easier to stay focused in the game and you just don’t have to think too much,” said Bernier of the playing time. “You get out there and play.
“There are other things. You have to make sure you take care of yourself and once you play three or four games a week, it’s tougher, but I like that challenge.”
Defenseman Gustav Lindstrom admitted it was a bit of a stressful day Thursday leading up to his NHL debut.
But once Lindstrom got on the ice at KeyBank Center and made his first pass, delivered and received his first hit, well, it all became somewhat normal.
“My heart rate was like 180 the whole day,” said Lindstrom after Thursday’s victory, a huge smile over his face. “Before the game, I felt like I had already played the game in my head like 20 times. It was good after the puck dropped.
“Now, I’ve calmed down a little bit.”
That calmness on the ice has impressed Blashill and Lindstrom’s teammates in short order. Lindstrom, by early indications, doesn’t get flustered on the ice and plays a smart, efficient game.
“He played pretty well,” Blashill said. “Your first game, you’re a bit nervous, but overall he knows how to defend the right way, little technique things like whether it’s one or two hands on the stick, or his body position.
“He’s pretty unflappable. That’s what I like about him. He’s not a real nervous kids. He’s just unflappable and seems to have a way about him that’s real comfortable in his own skin.”
Lindstrom played 12:07 and had a minus-1 rating.
“It felt like I was more nervous during the (pregame) nap than before the game,” Lindstrom said. “It was fun to play. I was a little bit shaky at first, but I made a good pass on the first shift and felt good.”
Forward Darren Helm missed Friday’s game in Columbus with an undisclosed injury. Brendan Perlini was expected to return to the lineup.
… Defenseman Dennis Cholowski was kept out of the lineup in both Buffalo and Columbus with what Blashill called an “irritation.”
“He was scheduled to play and then he wasn’t 100 percent,” Blashill said. “I don’t know if it’s a healthy scratch. Could he have played? Yes, he could have played. Was he 100 percent? No. And we have other guys who are 100 percent, so I just went that way.”