No one can say James Reimer does not have a sense of occasion.
Throughout the Toronto Maple Leafs’ playoff series with the Boston Bruins, the Leafs goaltender was never terrible but not great, either. At the other end of the ice, Tuukka Rask of the Bruins was superb. He was making a case in every game as the series MVP as the Bruins took control.
So the Leafs desperately needed Reimer to outplay Rask on Friday, with elimination staring them in the face. But once again Rask was outstanding, making himself the immovable object the resilient Leafs slammed into over the first 30 minutes of the game.
Then Reimer stepped up to seize the evening. Midway through the second period, Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron wound up with the puck and perhaps the game on his stick. He had the left side of the net open and fired. But Reimer did the splits, stretched his legs to their utmost and got a toe on the shot.
A goal there and this game could have gone the way so many do when one team outshoots and outplays another only to get its back broken by a soft or lucky goal.
Two minutes later, Tyler Bozak finally broke the Rask mystique with a shorthanded breakaway goal and the Leafs were in position for what turned out to be a 2-1 win that kept the Leafs alive in the series with the Bruins’ lead cut to 3-2. But all agreed they would not have been there without Reimer.
“We get that goal, it’s a different game,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien.
“That was a big momentum boost for us,” Leafs defenceman Cody Franson said. “When he’s making saves like that we really feed off that.”
The self-effacing Reimer, who said his groin muscles were just fine after that mighty stretch, typically said he wasn’t sure just how he made that save.
“It was just one of those plays,” he said. “The puck just got deflected to him back-door and you just try to get something over there. Luckily enough I got my toe over there and was lucky enough that he hit it.”
Reimer also played down the notion that going into the game he really, really needed to outplay Rask. He wasn’t thinking about that, he said, “not too much. When you get out there, you always want to be the best for your teammates regardless whether the other goalie is letting in 10 a night or zero.”
The Bergeron save sent a shot of confidence through Reimer’s teammates but much more work lay ahead before the Leafs’ survival was assured. The Bruins went into full assault mode in the third period, as Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner noted: “They were coming. They were bringing everything, they were bringing their [defence] down the wall.”
And Reimer was the eye of the hurricane. The Bruins, who were outshot 19-8 by the Leafs in the first period, turned the tables and outshot them 19-4 in the third in a desperate attempt to come back and end the series. All that got through, despite a late Bruins power play, was a shot by Zdeno Chara, so there will be at least one more night of hockey at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday.
And finally, as the final 12 seconds in a third period that seemed to last forever were counting down, Reimer and the Leafs got a stroke of luck in a building that has always turned their Cinderella dreams into pumpkins over the last four years. Bruins forward Jaromir Jagr got off a shot that was destined for the open net but it improbably hit the knob of Reimer’s goal stick and bounced away.
And Reimer allowed himself a little humour when someone asked how long he had been working on that particular save.
“You know it’s a skill save, right?”