Reimer, Leafs shut out Wild
ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
|Toronto Maple Leafs' Nazem Kadri is tripped by Minnesota Wild center Pierre-Marc Bouchard. (REUTERS/Andy King)
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- He has made the seven-hour drive through the wilds of southern Manitoba and northern Minnesota himself, so James Reimer knows what his parents went through to come see him play this week.
And the rookie sensation in the Maple Leafs net sure rewarded Marlene and Harold Reimer and the rest of their seven-person travelling party that made the long trek the Xcel Energy center Tuesday night.
The big kid delivered with a 29-save shutout - his third of the season - leading the Leafs to a crucial 3-0 win over the lowly Minnesota Wild.
"When your family is in town you want to play good for them, you want to make them proud," a beaming Reimer said afterward. "They drive seven hours to come and see you and it's a lot of money so you want to play well. It's just extra special that I could get the shutout."
It was far from a pedestrian shutout either as Reimer had to make four breakaway saves - including two while the Leafs were on the power play - to finish off what was a sloppy but generally spirited effort by the Leafs.
That they took care of business on a night that the rest of the Eastern Conference was uncooperative, moved the Leafs to 76 points, two more than last season when the race was as good as over long before this.
It's been emotionally draining and a wild ride, but the Leafs aren't ready for it to end just yet.
"There's been a lot of stress over the last month, gaining two points then giving them back," said forward Clarke MacArthur, whose beauty drop pass to Mikhail Grabovski in the second period gave the Leafs a 2-0 lead. "It would be something great to accomplish as a young team to get in (the playoffs).
"It will be really disappointing if we don't get in, especially with the stretch we've put on since the all-star break. I feel that if we can just battle hard and get three or four in a row, it's going to come right down to the wire."
There was no help from around the league Tuesday night with the two teams directly above them - Carolina and Buffalo - each winning. That keeps the Leafs five points out of a playoff spot but with one less game - eight - to make up ground.
Fortunately, the opponent was the reeling Wild, which matched a club record with a seventh consecutive loss and couldn't take advantage of the breakaways - two by John Madden.
He wasn't overworked by volume, but Reimer didn't flinch on any of the Wild breakaways as he improved his road record to a borderline brilliant 10-3-1.
"He was steady in there and you could just see the energy on our whole team," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "It wasn't just the goaltending. It was the whole team."
The Leafs certainly had energy on their side and got the crucial opening goal - on a Joffrey Lupul wrister less than two minutes in - to set the tone against a Wild team that had been blown out 8-1 by Montreal on the weekend.
Kicking off the three-game Western Conference road trip with a win was crucial, especially with the lack of support out of town. The Leafs get another weaker opponent Thursday in Denver when they meet the Avalanche then face the Red Wings Saturday in Detroit.
"Right now we need these games," said Lupul. "We'll come back after this trip and re-evaluate where we are at. Nothing's going to change overnight because we are five points back. We just want to play good hockey and get a little bit of help now."
If the Leafs are to stay in it, much of that help will need to come from the team's top two lines. Lupul scored his 10th of the season but his first in six games and Grabovski - with his 28th - was his first in five.
No matter where the rally ends - and as Lupul himself said, the most the Leafs can probably afford in their remaining eight games is one loss - the experience gained from the fight will pay off down the road.
"The last two years, it's been playing for pride or being the spoiler or proving to management you can play in the organization," Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn said.
"Now it's for points and (the playoffs) and it's completely different. It's fun for every game to mean a lot."