Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

February 28, 2008

TIM SCHMITT: Bern-yeah turns boos into cheers

BUFFALO — Steve Bernier looked sheepishly at the locker stall next to his. In town for less than 24 hours, the newest addition to the Buffalo Sabres tried his hardest to pronounce the name of the pesky forward he credited for starting the team’s engine in Wednesday’s momentum-changing 8-4 win over Nashville.

“This guy. Key-let-uh,” he said, trying to sound out the name next to the number 36 nameplate. “He really got us going. He just wouldn’t stop.”

Although he stumbled on Patrick Kaleta’s surname, it was the only thing that went wrong for Bernier during his scintillating Buffalo debut. He buried a pair of goals on his first two shots, giving the hosts a 2-0 lead. And his perfect pass to Derek Roy put the Sabres up 6-3 late in the second, giving Buffalo its second three-goal lead in as many periods.

But he saved his biggest assist for the final minutes, coming to the aid of Derek Roy with a bone-crushing hit that sent Nashville’s Jordin Tootoo airborne after the two swapped slashes.

Not a bad way to start, right?

“Awesome,” he said during the third round of questions from reporters on Wednesday. “I never saw it happening like this.”

Bernier was the most improbable catalyst in Buffalo’s most important win of the season. Morale was expectedly low after giving away games against the Rangers and Flyers, both teams Buffalo is trying to edge out for a playoff spot. Then, with the departure of the popular Brian Campbell, Wednesday was ripe for an emotional letdown as the Sabres have struggled to get up for Western Conference opponents without such extenuating circumstances.

But Wednesday was different. It included a new face in the lineup and a pair of new defensive pairings. And in Bernier, the Sabres had the fresh pair of legs they desperately needed for a jolt they can hopefully ride into the postseason.

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