Of all the Maple Leafs auditioning to be prime time players for next seasonís squad, goalie James Reimer certainly is making an impressive bid to occupy a starring role.
In fact, he might already be there.
At the beginning of the 2010 season, Reimer was a footnote in the organizationís goaltending depth chart. Sure, there were some members of the Leafs brass who thought the kid had potential but, more often than not, his name only came up after those of Jonas Gustavsson, J-S Giguere and even Finnish newcomer Jussi Rynnas.
With the Leafs playoff hopes continuing to appear dismal even after their 3-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre, Reimer is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise frustrating 2010-11 campaign.
Continuing on his hot role, Reimer, 22, recorded his first NHL shutout, blanking the íCanes en route to running his record to 5-3 on the season.
With the trade deadline approaching later this month, there is scepticism concerning GM Brian Burkeís ability to move Giguere, since a team picking up the veteran goalie would be on the hook for about $1.6 million US of salary over the final six weeks of the season.
Either way, if Reimer keeps playing like this, it will be tough prying him out of the Toronto net.
Thursdayís game marked the first meeting between the teams since Tim Gleason dropped Nikolai Kulemin with a punch on Feb. 24 at the RBC Center in Raleigh.
Truth be told, the media circus and debate that followed the incident was much ado about nothing.
The fact of the matter is, Kulemin took a couple of pokes at Gleasonís face before the Hurricanes defenceman responded by punching the normally-reserved Leafs forward in the nose.
Kulemin immediately dropped to the ice on the play while Gleason was given the boot from the game. Even Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson felt at the time that Gleasonís punishment of a game misconduct was adequate.
Nine days later, the two teams faced off against each other again on Thursday night, with each side playing down talk of potential retribution.
Midway through the first period, the sides got any ballooning ill-will out of their respective systems when Gleason and Leafs pugilist Jay Rosehill dropped the gloves. The capacity crowd of 19,310 went crazy when Rosehill landed a couple of shots and applauded him while he made his way to the penalty box but, after that, both teams seemed content that the score involving Gleason had been settled.
Kulemin, meanwhile, would get his own revenge at 7:28 of the second period, assisting on a Clarke MacArthur goal that put the Leafs up 1-0.
The goal was MacArthurís 16th of the season, outstanding production from a guy who was signed to a bargain-basement one-year deal worth $1.1 million US prior to the season. The Leafs have made no secret that they would like to lock up MacArthur to an extension although no serious talks are said to have been held as of yet.
As loud as the ovation was for MacArthurís goal, it paled in comparison to the partial standing ďOĒ given to rookie Tim Brent just minutes later.
With the Leafs two men short, Brent sacrificed his body on three separate occasions to block Hurricane shots on the penalty kill, much to the glee of the appreciative throng on hand.
Former Marlie Darryl Boyce widened the Maple Leafs lead to 2-0 at 14:52 of the second, beating Cam Ward to the far side with a snapshot. Kris Versteeg widened the gap to 3-0 at 6:25 of the third, a goal that rounded out the scoring.