Sometimes, NHL teams lose games that they really should have won. Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist gave the Leafs tastes of that futile exercise earlier this season. And sometimes, like last night in Toronto, NHL teams win games that they had no business winning. As they went wheels-up toward Philadelphia last night, the Leafs knew that was the case with their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Leafs were outshot. They were outplayed. They were outskated. But they weren’t outscored. And that’s all that matters as their "Improbable Run to the Playoffs 2011" continues. All they did was git ‘er done.
The Leafs were saved by several factors on Wednesday, not the least of which was James Reimer. That’s right, James Reimer. Oh, he didn’t have a game for the ages. We all know that. And the two goals he surrendered – one through his right armpit, the other five-hole – were both on shots that, maybe, he should have stopped. But here’s why Reimer was key.
Once the Penguins took their 2-1 lead, twenty-six minutes into the game, Reimer shut the door. He allowed the Leafs to stay close for the next twenty minutes. That was huge. Reimer stopped every puck he saw during that period. Imagine, for a moment, if he’d surrendered another goal or two. There’s no way the Leafs were going to come back from that deficit. Reimer was the key as he kept it close. Just git ‘er done, right James?
In fact, we don’t have to imagine anything. J-S Giguere proved, last Sunday in Atlanta, what happens when your netminder does not hold the other team at bay. The Leafs totally blew a 2-0, third-period lead v. the Thrashers. Reimer was the anti-Jiggy. Thank gawd.
Over the next 72 hours, the Leafs play each of last season’s Stanley Cup Finalists. Toronto is one of a handful of NHL teams that face this Philadelphia-Chicago back-to-back nightmare this season. And, of course, that nightmare is now more like a horror film because of the way Jonathan Toews has his Hawks playing lately.
Phil Kessel now has eight goals in eight games. His resurgence has essentially coincided with Joffrey Lupul’s arrival. Whatever works, right Mr. Burke? James Reimer will start at Wells Fargo Center tonight for Toronto. And, as the Leafs continue to confound the "experts," Reimer will have to turn in another game-winning performance. Either by stopping everything he sees, or by simply keeping the Leafs in the game until Phil Kessel can git ‘er done.