TORONTO — When the Colorado Avalanche acquired Reto Berra from the Calgary Flames at the 2014 trade deadline, the price of a second-round pick was pretty rich for a goaltender with a sub-.900 save percentage and just 29 games of NHL experience.
"When you're making a trade for a player it's because you believe he's going to play a major role for your team," coach and executive vice president Patrick Roy said. "We saw him as a great backup to Varly."
Berra has been Semyon Varlamov's backup the past two seasons and even gave way to young Calvin Pickard at one point last year. But so far this season he's tops among goaltenders who have played at least eight games with a 1.50 goals-against average and .953 save percentage.
The 28-year-old has been the key to the Avalanche stringing together a three-game winning streak to quell some panic and the buzz of trade rumours.
"Reto's been unbelievable," leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon said. "He's been criticized a lot over the past couple seasons that he's not an NHL goalie. Some people wouldn't take that so well. He's taken it and ran with it."
Berra, set to make his fifth consecutive start Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, got the opportunity because Varlamov suffered a groin injury. Roy said that Varlamov had a good day of skating and could be back on the ice when the Avalanche travel to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins.
For now, this is Berra's net. When Roy was asked Monday if he had any changes in goal, the Hall of Fame netminder quipped: "I'm not gonna play tomorrow."
The way Berra's playing, why would anyone else get the chance? During an undefeated three-game winning streak to start the Avalanche's seven-game road trip, Berra has stopped 89 of the 92 shots he faced.
"The saves that he made in the first period (Saturday) in Montreal, they were really good chances and I thought that kept us in the game and allowed us to play with the lead," Roy said. "Right now he's playing with a lot of confidence, and we're very happy."
Berra's confidence stemmed from a lack of it, as he was not happy with his performance last season. He worked over the summer back home in Switzerland to better prepare himself.
In North America, renowned goaltending coach Francois Allaire has helped Berra get more accustomed to the NHL and improve some technical aspects.
"I had to learn how it works in the NHL," Berra said. "It's so different than in Switzerland. Probably I just needed a little time, maybe more time than other people."
Berra had an .897 save percentage with Calgary over his first 29 games. Since the trade to Colorado, he's sitting on .924 (entering play Tuesday).
He credits his recent success on settling into a groove. But with Varlamov hurt, it was Berra's chance to shine and he has made the most of it.
"When Varly goes down, it's always good for him to step up," MacKinnon said. "(We have) lots of confidence when he's making 40 saves or whatever he's been making later. It definitely feels good."
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press