James Reimer looked more than just “okay”.
He looked tall and confident in the Leafs goal, far removed from one of Randy Carlyle’s infamous post-game assessments of his netminder from last season. His ear-to-ear at the podium to address reporters’ questions was a complete contrast to the oft-replayed image of him scowling on the Toronto bench after being pulled in a game just under a year ago.
Reimer had at least 27 reasons to smile. That was the number of saves the Morweena, Manitoba native made in the third period alone, preserving a 3-2 Leafs win at Air Canada Centre versus the Chicago Blackhawks.
The potency of the offence of the visitors from the Windy City – winners of two of the last five Stanley Cups – is self-evident. The All-Star cast of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa needs no introduction. Every Hawks player except for defencemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Michal Rozsival had at least one shot on goal.
And with the Leafs clinging by their fingernails to a one-goal lead, there was Reimer, making six of his saves on a Chicago power-play late in regulation. These weren’t routine stops, either. He foiled blueliner Brent Seabrook – who had beaten him on a power-play goal earlier in the game – then also snagged the rebound. The crème de la crème was a skate save on Kane who had gotten loose on a partial breakaway.
“(These were) quality saves,” said Carlyle after the game. “A lot of times you get a lot of stuff from the outside. But they had some point-blank chances. (Reimer) stood tall to the task for sure. He was the game’s first star.”
Reimer stopped 45 shots in total as the Leafs won their third straight game. With counterpart Corey Crawford on the Chicago bench for a sixth attacker, the home crowd began chanting “REI-MER, REI-MER” to help rally the goaltender.
“I feed off (the cheers) a little bit,” Reimer said. “Often you can’t even hear the crowd; you don’t want to hear it. But for some reason, at a time like that I definitely heard it. With a minute left, it gave me a lot more motivation and energy.”
Toronto had a good omen in opening the scoring as a tic-tac-toe play was finished by Nazem Kadri, with Daniel Winnik and Phil Kessel dishing off the passes to set up the goal. The Leafs had entered the game with a perfect 4-0-0 record when scoring first. Brad Richards evened the score on a Chicago power-play before the first period ended.
In the second frame, following Seabrook’s go-ahead marker, James van Riemsdyk pounced on a Patrick Kane giveaway, sniping the puck past Crawford for his 100th career goal, and 100th point as a Leaf. JVR’s younger brother Trevor could only watch from the Chicago bench.
“It was definitely a fun experience, one that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” said van Riemsdyk of playing against his sibling.
The game winner was fired home by Patrick Holland, who converted a pass from grinder Leo Komarov made from behind the Chicago net. Holland now has four goals in as many career games versus the Blackhawks.
Carlyle has always been averse to labelling his goaltenders as “starter” and “backup”, habitually referring to a “1A” and “1B” designation, even though the proportional workload granted in favour of Jonathan Bernier seems to confirm the pecking order.
However, if Reimer gives more performances as he did on Saturday night, a healthy competition between the pipes may be brewing.
Notes: Air Canada Centre fans gave a well-deserved ovation to Carley Allison (@Carley_Elle) for her rendition of the Candian national anthem…The game was played in recognition of Hockey Fights Cancer. All rink board advertising was painted in light purple…The ACC scoreboard showed a bald David Booth (injured), who has shaved his head for the cause….During a break in the action the scoreboard flashed a simple message for Gordie Howe: “Stay strong, Mr. Hockey.”…Sam Carrick made his NHL debut, logging 4:15 of ice time and winning 3 of 6 faceoffs. He drew a penalty against Bryan Bickell, but was in the box when Richards scored…Hjalmarsson had a rough night, taking a puck in the face in the second period resulting in a bloody mess on the ice. When the Hawks blueliner returned for the third, he also blocked a shot in his mid-section, but skated off on his own power.
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