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Leafs goaltender James Reimer has allowed 14 goals in four games against the Boston Bruins, which has dropped his save percentage to .914 in his first playoffs. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Leafs goaltender James Reimer has allowed 14 goals in four games against the Boston Bruins, which has dropped his save percentage to .914 in his first playoffs. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Spotlight turns to Reimer as Leafs look to avoid elimination Add to ...

He began training camp as the team’s biggest question mark.

He ended the season as its most valuable player, with his performance even garnering a few scattered fifth-place votes from writers around the league for the Hart Trophy.

But four games into a playoff series the Toronto Maple Leafs trail 3-1 heading into Friday’s must-win Game 5, netminder James Reimer has only been somewhere in between.

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Not great. Not even good.

But not exactly terrible either.

For all the talk of captain Dion Phaneuf’s obvious gaffe before the Boston Bruins’ overtime winner in Wednesday’s thriller, little was made of Reimer whiffing on another puck, this one put just below his blocker arm by David Krejci, the young goalie’s nemesis of sorts in the series.

Even with Reimer’s teammates scattered in their defensive coverage on the play, the shot was what most would term a makeable save – especially at such a crucial moment.

“I just tried to stay square to the shooter, but he just beat me,” Reimer explained after the loss. “I thought I got most of it and had a good read but just didn’t get enough.”

That was the 14th goal Reimer allowed in the four games of the series and it dropped his save percentage to .914 in his first playoffs, a number that would be just below average in the regular season and even further under the .918 average in what’s been a fairly goalie-unfriendly postseason.

It’s also a far cry from Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask’s .932, the kind of stat line that a goaltender often needs to post to win a closely contested series such as this.

That didn’t seem entirely out of reach for Reimer going into the postseason, either. Despite a midseason knee injury, the 25-year-old from tiny Morweena, Man., finished the regular season with a 19-8-5 record and was tied with the seventh best save percentage among regular starters (.924) in a sign Toronto’s search for a No.1 goaltender was over.

All along, Reimer was never particularly flashy – merely efficient and dependable, night after night, and often enough that he became the biggest reason the Leafs not only clinched a playoff berth but finished a surprising fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Only late in the year did he really have to steal games, with a 2-0 win over the New Jersey Devils late in the season with the Leafs outshot 32-13 and sagging badly standing out more than most.

That version of Reimer has yet to arrive in these playoffs, something due at least in part to the Bruins’ rigorous scouting of his strengths and weaknesses.

You don’t have to look further than the pile of low percentage shots (and the resulting rebounds) that Boston has been directing Reimer’s way for evidence of its strategy against him, with the young netminder facing down an average of more than 40 shots a game, the heaviest workload for any goalie this postseason.

Yet, while Rask has calmly and comfortably handled a similar volume – with Toronto impressively sending nearly 37 pucks his way a night – Reimer has looked more jittery and on edge, overwhelmed perhaps by the situation or simply the fact the Bruins have planned for him more than any team before.

Not that anyone in the organization is pointing the finger his way after what’s been a remarkable season.

“You always want your goalie to steal a game if he can,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said on Thursday. “But the number of quality chances that he has had to face, we have to cut those down. That’s part of the mandate we talk about. Our team has got to find a way to play to a higher level.”

That said, one of Carlyle’s most well-worn mantras during these playoffs has been that “ordinary is not good enough” and, after four games, that certainly applies to his goaltender.

Reimer has been merely ordinary in this series, and for Toronto to pull off an upset or two and claw back into it, that won’t be enough.

@mirtle

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