Johnny Bower never had to worry about Dion Phaneuf, let alone Twitter.
Among the many learning experiences to come out of the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night, the Twitterati now know they can’t screw around with April Reimer.
Reimer, the wife of Leafs goaltender James, was sitting in front of Elisha Cuthbert, the actress-fiancee of Dion Phaneuf, when David Krejci’s goal squeezed by her husband on a play set up when Phaneuf made a bone-headed decision to run at Nathan Horton at the Bruins blueline – a costly pinch that compounded an offensive zone turnover and led to an odd-man rush. The pair were caught staring at each other after the goal – Hockey Night In Canada couldn’t get enough –replete with eye roll.
The CBC’s website had it all covered, and it wasn’t until April Reimer tweeted that it was the reaction to a comment from “the jerk beside us,” that the imaginary cat fight was put in its proper context: which means of course that it will be a dominant topic of questioning for reporters in the follow-up to the loss that put the Maple Leafs one more defeat away from elimination in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final.
Good times, eh? As Reimer himself noted after the loss, the Leafs must play “honest,” hockey to get back in the series, as opposed to “desperate” hockey. Honesty started in the Leafs dressing room after the game, with Phaneuf accepting responsibility for the decision that led to the winning goal – although he described the play as stepping up to keep the puck in instead of not wanting to waste a chance to paste Horton into hockey oblivion.
This was not the captain’s best game as a member of the Maple Leafs. He was tentative with and without the puck – coming off a Game 3 performance in which he looked nervous – and played like someone - how to put it candidly? – who looks like he’s nursing an injury. Phaneuf, who was minus-two, had five of the Leafs 33 giveaways in a team-high 31 minutes and 14 seconds of ice time and was at best the Leafs third-best defenceman on a night when Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner rose to the occasion after Mark Fraser was lost to the team after taking a Milan Lucic shot off the forehead in the third period.
This should be the night that sees Gardiner once and for all out of head coach Randy Carlyle’s doghouse. Gardiner logged more even-strength ice time than any Leafs player (25:50) and collected a pair of assists. He had three hits – standing up Jaromir Jagr at one point - three blocked shots and finished plus one and spoke later about his and many of his teammates first overtime game.
“We’re a pretty confident group,” he said. “We don’t want to sit back. We wanted to play to win the game, not play to not lose. They just got a two on one and took advantage of it.”
Gardiner said the playoffs have simply reinforced the lessons he learned last year. “It starts in your own end, and the rest will take care of itself,” he said. “You need to be aware. I was playing against the Jagr and (Shawn) Thornton line early in the game and when (Fraser) got hurt I had to step up and play against the top two lines.”
This city is enjoying the hell out of its first taste of the playoffs in nine years, which is all to the good. But the fact is that these playoffs are a bonus, given the expectations on the team heading into the season. This was about finding out if Reimer is a legitimate No. 1 goaltender (he is) and whether Nazem Kadri has the potential to be a regular contributor as a first or second line forward – the playoffs have been an education for him – and also about whether Gardiner could get back to the level of performance he had last season, when he was one of the brightest spots in a poor season yet needed to win the confidence of Carlyle, who was less likely to cut him the slack of his predecessor, Ron Wilson. Gardiner was dealing with concussion-like symptoms, and you’d think by now everybody would know that recovery from that type of injury isn’t always linear.
“We ask our players to do some things that are staples,” Carlyle said on Wednesday. “He (Gardiner) is close to where he was before his injury. He’s not been as erratic with the puck and is very noticeable carrying it and moving it. That was our expectations for him at the start of the season, but from our perspective that wasn’t happening out there.”
The process of discovery continues with Game 5 in Boston on Friday night. Twitter, consider yourself warned.