PORTLAND – Jonathan Bernier looked great in his pair of practices at the Portland Ice Arena this week. He moved side-to-side with ease, dropped into his butterfly without hesitation and pushed off of his much-maligned right ankle like he’d never had a problem.

The half of a roll of tape underneath his skate and around his ankle spun a different tale.

“It’s still sore,” Bernier admitted. “But I’m ready to go and play with it. It’s part of hockey, and there’s nothing I can do.”

Nothing but play through what pain he has left, anyway.

Last Friday, Bernier returned to game action with the Lewiston Maineiacs for the first time since Jan. 25. He made 28 saves on 29 shots and helped the Maineiacs to a 4-1 win over the Prince Edward Island Rocket.

“It wasn’t just that he played, but how he played,” Maineiacs’ Head Coach Clem Jodoin said. “He could have gone in the net and just stood there, but in the first game he made some great saves, solid, like the Joe that we know. He was steady, calm, had a presence on the ice.”

Two days later, Bernier made his second start in a row, posting another win over the Rocket.

“I was really nervous, but the coaches prepared me before the games and I was ready,” Bernier said. “I knew it was important for me to get in shape mentally for the playoffs.”

Now, just five days later, Bernier is looking to lead the team into the playoffs.

“I would have liked to have had more than two games, but I feel OK,” Bernier said. “For sure there is a couple of things when you don’t play for two months, and I still have a couple of things to work on, but at the end of the week, I think we’re going to be fine.”

It’s no coincidence that Bernier used “we,” either. Even as a 17-year-old last season Bernier felt a lot of the playoff pressure was on him. This year, thanks in large part to Jodoin’s constant reminders, he realizes his journey through the playoffs, however long or short, will not be traveled alone.

“This year, we are a team,” Bernier said. “There’s nobody special. For me, I just have to do my job, stop the puck. That’s why I’m here.”

“Last year is last year,” Jodoin said. “I think this year we have a much better team overall, and working in front of (Bernier), we’re going to help him, and he’s going to help us by making the key saves he needs to make.”

First on the list of things to do is to win tonight against the Shawinigan Cataractes, a team the Maineiacs swept two years ago while Bernier sat patiently on the bench as current Montreal Canadiens’ standout Jaroslav Halak patrolled the blue paint.

This time, it’s Bernier’s turn.

“I’m ready to go,” Bernier said emphatically. “I had some good practices before I played. I had a great game first game back, so I’ll be ready for the first game of the playoffs for sure.”

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