BUFFALO – During a 17-game run with the Sabres late in 2007-08, Steve Bernier mustered only three goals, two of which he scored in his first game. The winger mostly disappeared after that, and he was quietly traded to Vancouver months later.
Mention Bernier’s name around some Sabres fans, and inevitably someone will bring up his rollicking debut.
Now, after Bernier’s two-goal performance Friday in the New Jersey Devils’ 3-1 win against the Sabres, the 29-year-old might have a new claim to fame in these parts.
Many of the Sabres’ rabid fans want their team to lose and stay in 30th place, so Bernier delivered for them by ending a 14-game goal drought with his 99th and 100th NHL scores.
“They’ve been playing good,” Bernier said about the Sabres. “I think we played well, a very good, patient game tonight. We were able to limit their scoring chances.”
Still, the Sabres generated some chances before the announced sellout crowd of 19,070 fans inside the First Niagara Center, pumping 29 shots on New Jersey backup goalie Keith Kinkaid. In fact, they outshot an opponent for only the sixth time in 71 games.
The Sabres appeared to open the scoring 7:05 into the game, but replay officials ruled Johan Larsson kicked the puck into the net.
“I saw the puck and I tried to stop,” Larsson said. “I think I had my skate in the air.”
A lead could’ve changed the game.
“You get a lead on New Jersey, it’s a different game,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “When you try to go from behind, they clog up the middle. It’s going to be a pretty boring game.”
The game, the Sabres’ eighth loss in nine outings (1-6-2), was really boring.
“They’re a veteran team, they’re a smart team,” Nolan said. “They sit back and wait for that mistake, and once you make a mistake, they capitalize on it. That was their game plan coming in. That’s what they waited for.”
Sabres winger Tyler Ennis added: “They’re kind of boring, they kind of lull you to sleep, or they try to at least.”
Bernier scored 9:08 into the second period, capitalizing after the Sabres’ Nick Deslauriers couldn’t corral Cody Hodgson’s pass high in the New Jersey zone. Bernier beat Sabres goalie Anders Lindback again at 13:53.
Jordin Tootoo’s third-period goal iced it. Matt Moulson’s power-play score ruined Kinkaid’s bid for his first NHL shutout 11:41 into the third period.
Prior to the game, the Sabres recalled center Mikhail Grigorenko from Rochester for the sixth time this season and possibly the last time ever. The 20-year-old skated a game-low eight minutes, nine seconds between Deslauriers and Cody Hodgson.
Why did the Sabres summon Grigorenko, the 12th pick in 2012?
“Just to give him a look, see how he’s progressing,” Nolan said. “Right now, guys are vying for jobs and (we’re) seeing how they respond. You look at Larsson, he’s made a good name for himself and really taken advantage of it. Phil Varone’s doing it. Grigorenko, his first game here, he has to learn how to do that also.”
Nolan added: “He’s just got to be better.”
In his last appearance March 6, Grigorenko started on the second line before getting demoted early in the Sabres’ 3-2 loss in Ottawa. The Sabres sent him down the next day. Nolan later blasted Grigorenko’s effort, saying, “He didn’t have any energy or urgency in his game whatsoever.”
Grigorenko has compiled only one goal and two points in 14 outings this season.
Nolan wasn’t sure if Grigorenko would stay up. The Sabres play tonight in Nashville. Nolan said goalie Matt Hackett will likely start against the Predators.
The Sabres also sent center Tim Schaller and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel down before the game. Andrej Meszaros returned from a hand injury, so Ruhwedel had to be sent down.