Rookie goaltender James Reimer has seen enough of Phil Kessel to know it was only a matter of time the Maple Leafs sniper would score a clutch goal against someone else.
“He makes me look like a fool all the time in practice,” Reimer said following a 2-1 Leafs win over the New York Islanders, that helped keep the playoff life support humming. “He’s got one of the hardest shots to stop.”
Kessel’s game winner with less than five minutes remaining didn’t exactly make brilliant Isles goalie Al Montoya look like a fool, but it was the type of play the Leafs expect more of from their lead man.
Kessel’s 23rd of the season may have been his best, if you factor in timing, but it looks pretty spectacular on tape as well. An end-to-end rush, that included a nice stop and go just inside the Isles blue line to fool the defence was finished off with a low shot that fooled Montoya.
“I’ve had my chances here,” said Kessel, who has struggled at the ACC “It was nice to get a big goal like that.”
There’s no doubt the young Leafs are enjoying watching the action elsewhere as they resolutely attempt to claw their way into the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The win, combined with a Carolina shootout loss to the Rangers — taken in by the Leafs in the players’ lounge — moved them back to within six points of the eighth-place Hurricanes and just one behind idle Buffalo and Atlanta.
Still a long shot for sure and we’re guessing the one that got away Saturday still stings, but the longer they are in it, the more the Leafs are enjoying the ride.
“It’s a process we are going through,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “Every game is the most important game we play.
“We have to be careful now of getting tired. These games can really sap your energy — but we’ll take the extra point any way you can get it.”
Obviously the Leafs can’t take any opponent for granted as we saw with Saturday’s loss to Ottawa. But next up is the Canadiens Thursday night in Montreal. And it should be a weary Habs team, who finished off a three-game Western Canada trip last night in Vancouver.
Buy the kid a goal
As strong as Reimer has played — a shutout loss in the shootout Saturday and a narrow win Tuesday despite giving up just one goal — the team has had trouble producing for him offensively, particularly at the Air Canada Centre.
“(Reimer) made some big saves for us and did a good job keeping us in the game,” forward Colby Armstrong said. “That allowed our best player to come through for us.”
Here’s why Armstrong, back after four games because of injury, looks so good in the “A.” In the third period, after a hard check on Michael Haley, the Isles got all hot and bothered and ended up with the extra penalty from the skirmish ... Kessel gave Armstrong and Tyler Bozak credit for going to the net on the game-winner causing a distraction for Montoya on the unassisted goal. “Bozie and Army driving hard to the net made that happen,” Kessel said ... Interesting too, because in the second Wilson took Bozak off the top line of Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, putting Tim Brent in his place ... Have to wonder when Lupul will ever score his first as a Leaf. The newcomer had numerous chances — including being robbed in the first by Montoya. “At some point he will relax a little,” Wilson said. “He had two or three great opportunities and couldn’t find a way to put it in.” ... The Isles started the game sluggishly, having played Monday against Florida, but by the third period were controlling much of the play ... Lost somewhat in the win was the continued struggles on the power play, which was horrid at times on Tuesday. Wilson tried Brent back on the point, much like he did with Kris Versteeg when he was here. They knew it when the deal was made, but that’s obviously where the team will miss Tomas Kaberle the most.
Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla on Kaberle prior to Tuesday’s game against the Bruins: “Just glad he stayed in the East.” ... When Clarke MacArthur opened the scoring, it was the first Leafs goal in 59 shots ... Bad enough that the Leafs were handing the weary Islanders power-play opportunities but much worse that too many of them were taking place in the offensive zone ... Worse yet, the Leafs took a too-many-men penalty at the end of one of their owner power plays ... The Leafs are now a healthy 16-4-4 when they score first. And remember crappy Tuesdays? It’s now their most productive day of the week - 8-3-1 ... Funny how the wagering world works. The Leafs were such heavy favourites last night that you would have had to bet $150 to profit $100 ... In five of their past six games, the Leafs have scored two goals or less.