Jonas Gustavsson has seemingly had an answer for everything opponents have thrown at him over the past week or two. There was no better way for the Toronto Maple Leafs goalie to deliver a message to his critics.
Written off by many earlier in the season, the man known as “The Monster” will take a personal four-game win streak into Wednesday's game against the Boston Bruins.
Gustavsson has managed to remain remarkably even-keeled through a turbulent first couple seasons in the NHL by avoiding most of what is said or written about him. But he knows there are those who doubt him.
“It's a big hockey market and there's always things going around,” he said Tuesday after practice. “I mean if there's no story, there has to be a story. I guess the goalie's always in the spotlight too.
“Either you're the hero or the guy that everyone's blaming.”
He's been playing the role of hero as the Leafs have made a surprising climb to the upper reaches of the Eastern Conference despite missing No. 1 goalie James Reimer to concussion-like symptoms for more than a month.
Initially, third-stringer Ben Scrivens was given the bulk of the work in Reimer's absence, prompting many to suggest Gustavsson's days could be numbered. But the Swede has bounced back — stopping 119 of 126 shots in his last four starts — and earned the respect of teammates in the process.
“When this hit, when (Scrivens) kind of had a few games, a lesser man could have really taken it in a bad way,” said Reimer. “I know he went out in practice and just kept working hard and now he's playing phenomenal. I didn't really doubt that he could do it and sure enough, here he is.
“I'm really happy for the success he's had.”
Added defenceman Carl Gunnarsson: “All I saw was him coming down and working his ass off every day. He's been doing well in practice and I think he's been doing good in the games he's played too.”
Gustavsson could find himself under siege with back-to-back games looming against the red-hot Bruins. The reigning Stanley Cup champions have become a nemesis for the Leafs in recent years and should be confident after outscoring them by a combined 13-2 in two meetings this season.
The first of those losses came on Oct. 20, when Gustavsson allowed six goals on 43 shots at TD Banknorth Garden. It was his toughest outing of the year.
Toronto enters this week's two-game series against Boston with a one point lead in the Northeast Division.
“We're viewing it as a little bit of a measuring stick,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “We know what tomorrow's all about. The nice thing for us is we're playing the Bruins and we're not going to be as tired as we have been in the other games (against them).”
The Bruins, winners of 11 of their last 12 games, are looking to deliver a message of their own.
“Right now, we're playing yo-yo with these guys,” coach Claude Julien said in Boston. “One game we're ahead of them, the next game we're behind them. This is an opportunity here in these next two games, if we want to spread that gap a little bit, it's up to us to go in and do the job.”
There has been just as much movement in the Leafs crease.
Gustavsson is sporting a solid 8-4-0 record but is poised to get pushed to the background again with Reimer nearing a return. Wilson expects the team's No. 1 goalie to serve as the backup for Saturday's game in Boston, setting up the possibility he'll play his first game since Oct. 22 next week.
But true to form, it's not something Gustavsson is spending much time focusing on.
“You can't really think further than where you're at right now,” he said. “If I'm going to think about what's going to happen next week, I'm not going to be able to perform. Next week or next month could be a whole different situation.
“That's the funny thing with this sport: You never know what's going to happen.”