MONTREAL — Patrice Bernier hopes he has some post-season magic left over from last year's Major League Soccer playoffs.
The Brossard, Que., native went all of the 2015 season without scoring a goal, then tallied twice in the three post-season games as the Impact reached the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time.
He didn't score a again this season, but wouldn't mind finding the range once more when the Impact play a single-game knockout round match Thursday against D.C. United at RFK Stadium.
"We play in order to play in these types of games, the high-stakes games, " Bernier said Tuesday. "You want to be present.
"If I can contribute on the board, so be it, but if I can contribute by stirring up the team and making sure we get a win, even better."
The Impact will be looking to all their players for goals against a stingy D.C. defence. The teams twice played to 1-1 draws in the regular season, with Montreal needing a late equalizer each time. The unlikely goalscorers were defensive midfielder Hernan Bernardello and defender Hassoun Camara.
The 37-year-old Bernier, the team MVP in 2012, got into 20 games, including 13 starts, this season, but has been a regular of late in a central midfield core with Bernardello and Marco Donadel that was key in late-season 2-0-1 spurt that secured their playoff berth. The trio doesn't score a lot, but they has excelled at keeping opponent's star attackers to the outside.
"Playing in Montreal means a lot to Pat," said coach Mauro Biello. "Last year was difficult for him in terms of getting minutes and playing time and he got that opportunity towards the end of the year and he was a big factor in the success this team had."
Montreal will be tested by D.C., which went 9-4-4 at home this season. Overall, home teams are 10-2 since the knockout round was introduced.
But Bernier feels the Impact, 4-6-7 away from Saputo Stadium this season, are better on the road than they've been in their five years in MLS.
"We found a recipe to be very compact and tight," he said. "We have a tendency to be dominated (territorially), but we don't panic in those moments.
"We have Nacho (Ignacio Piatti), Didier (Drogba), Matteo (Mancosu), and Dom (Oduro) up front, so it fits our game. Transition is the name of the game for us this year. It's like a game of cat and mouse. You want to attract them to be able to catch them in the space they leave (open) with the speed we have up front."
Biello said chances were "very minimal" that Drogba will play. The 38-year-old who has been nursing a sore back has not trained this week, although he appeared an hour into practice Tuesday to do 15 minutes of running on the sidelines.
Hindsight says the Impact could haven been playing at home on Thursday had Biello not sat out all but three of his starters, goalkeeper Evan Bush and defenders Laurent Ciman and Ambroise Oyongo, in Sunday's season-ending 3-0 loss at New England. He wanted his first 11 fresh for the playoff game.
But D.C., only one point ahead of Montreal, also sat out its starters and lost in Orlando.
Bernier supports his coaches' decision, which he felt showed confidence they could win on the road.
"D.C. did the same as we did, they rested most of their players. But you couldn't bet that they would do that," said Bernier. "The plan was to rest and prepare.
"And the guys who got an opportunity will be knocking. Last year, Johan Venegas came off the bench against Columbus and scored the 2-1 goal, so it's important to keep them in the run of things. The important thing is the game on Thursday."
If they win that, they will be back at Saputo Stadium on Sunday for the opening game of the two-game, total goals conference semifinals against either the first-place New York Red Bulls or second-place New York City.