There have been times lately when James Reimer contemplated the possibility that he had played his last game for the Toronto Maple Leafs. But suddenly, if the Leafs are going to make a near impossible run to the playoffs, there’s a good chance Reimer will have to be the man to lead them there.
Nobody will know the full extent of Jonathan Bernier’s injury until the results of his MRI come back Friday afternoon, but it’s never a good sign when a goalie needs to be helped off the ice and can’t put any pressure on his leg. As Bernier exited the game at the 8:22 mark of the third period after Patrice Bergeron fell on his leg, it certainly didn’t look like a day-to-day injury.
Enter Reimer, who has had about as miserable a time as any goaltender in the league of late. Displeased fans had taken to abusing his wife on Twitter over his play and here he was, facing the team that probably cost him his job as the Leafs No. 1 goalie last spring. The Bruins were going on a power play and on the first shot he faced, Reimer had the backside of Zdeno Chara in his face.
All that with the season on the line. No pressure there. But Reimer, who is as decent an individual as you’re going to meet among NHL players, stopped 10 of 11 shots and picked up the victory to keep the Leafs slim chance of making the playoffs alive with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Boston Bruins. You wouldn’t blame Reimer for getting a case of the yips, knowing that every move was going to be scrutinized and judged. Reimer did not have time to consider the heavy consequences.
“Those are thoughts that kind of go through your mind,” Reimer said. “But you can’t be thinking about that when you have Chara standing in front of you.”
Reimer will be a restricted free agent this summer and it looks as though the Leafs have tied their fortunes to Bernier as their No. 1 goaltender. Some have run Reimer out of town already, regardless of what he accomplishes the rest of the way. Even Reimer acknowledged he thought his most recent game, a loss to New Jersey March 14 that turned out to be his fifth straight defeat, might be the last one with the Leafs.
“Lots of things go through your mind,” Reimer said. “That’s a plausible train of thought. But you never know. I actually told my wife before I left for the rink today I had a feeling I was going in. I didn’t know why.”
Nor does he know what lies ahead. Realistically, the Leafs will have to win each of their last four games and that might not even be enough to get them into the post-season. The Columbus Blue Jackets winning 2-0 over the Philadelphia Flyers certainly didn’t help their cause. Even in a perfect-case scenario with the Leafs winning all four in regulation, the Detroit Red Wings would need two regulation wins among six points in their final six games and the Blue Jackets would need seven points in their final six. So even if the Leafs are perfect, the Red Wings and the Blue Jackets basically only have to play .500.
A daunting task to say the least, but stranger things have happened. And as far as Reimer is concerned, he’s up to the task if he’s needed.
“I’m going to take the opportunity and run with it as much as I can,” Reimer said.
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, who seems to run a little hot and cold with Reimer, praised his backup for coming into difficult circumstances. “He gave us a chance and good for him,” Carlyle said. “He needed that and we needed that. It was great.”
So a season that has been bewildering for everyone associated with this team now gets a little more dramatic. It will undoubtedly go right to the wire. The Leafs could very well win the rest of their games, which would be karma’s way of making up for their eight-game losing streak. But these Leafs are a funny team. They have all kinds of speed and were playing a Boston team that, if it has one weakness, is vulnerable against teams that push the pace. But after going up 3-1, instead of continuing to push the pace, the Leafs retreated and tried to play defense, something they don’t do very well at all.
“You tell them to breathe,” Carlyle said. “That’s our catch phrase now. You can’t do anything if you don’t breathe and that’s what’s happened to our hockey club. When we’re freezing, we’re paralyzed. Just breathe. We’ll get through it.”
Might be some good advice there for the fan base, as well.