TORONTO - James Reimer has done enough to be the No. 1 goaltender for the Maple Leafs in 2011-12.
Itís that simple.
There have been precious few signs of wilting for the 23-year-old as the Leafs have played in pressure-packed games for the past couple of months. The Leafsí playoff hopes were killed when the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 on Tuesday night, but Reimer was a huge factor in the late charge.
And you can bet Reimer, whose record stands at 20-8-5 after a 3-2 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals, will be brimming with confidence when training camp opens in September.
ďIím proud of the way I played, maybe itís a little better than I thought I could have done,Ē Reimer, a restricted free agent this summer, said. ďI always believe in myself, but you never know how itís going to work out. I should be pretty confident, but the only reason I have had success is because I have worked hard and I have relied on my teammates and they have a done a good job. Iím not going to let anything slip away and forget what made me successful.Ē
Reimerís 39-save performance through 65 minutes was why the Leafs, who had just 21 shots on Michal Neuvirth, got to the shootout. His biggest save was a stunner in the third period on Marcus Johansson, when he stretched out to take an open net away from the Caps forward. A standing ovation for Reimer followed.
Said forward Joffrey Lupul: ďHe has given us a chance to win every game, stolen a couple for us, and that is exactly what you ask of your starting goalie. I think he will benefit from this playoff run and come back ready to be a full-season starter.Ē
We couldnít have said it any better.
The progression that Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski have shown in their respective games this season is something coach Ron Wilson can hang his hat on. Where the two might have represented early in the season what was thought to be thinness in the Leafsí top six, those notions are long gone. Kuleminís goal in the first period was what hockey people call a goal-scorerís goal. Cutting through the slot and letting fly, Kulemin beat Neuvirth with a great wrist shot ... Now itís up to Grabovski to give the Leafs their first 30-goal trio since 1995-96, when Mike Gartner (35), Mats Sundin (33) and Doug Gilmour (32) each had 30 goals. Phil Kessel and Kulemin have hit 30, with Grabovski at 29 goals ... Kessel deserves recognition for his determination in the final stretch. He ran a points streak to eight games when he made a terrific pass to set up Lupul in the second period. All Lupul had to do was drive to the net and keep his stick on the ice, and Kessel threaded the puck right to his tape. Kesselís speed helped make the play happen ... Alexander Ovechkin has feasted on the Leafs during his career and there might not be an opposing player who gets up for games in Toronto as much as the talented Russian. How much does the gap-toothed Ovechkin love hockey? He was the last player off the ice following the pre-game warmup. In the game, Ovechkin directed 17 shots at the net ó seven made it (one went in), four were blocked and six missed ... Keith Aulie made a smart play in the middle period, catching up to Ovechkin and disrupting the Caps star enough to negate a solid scoring chance but not so much that Aulie took a penalty ... Jean-Sebastien Giguere has been a good soldier for the Leafs and deserves to start in goal on Wednesday night in New Jersey versus the Devils. Giguere was not as bad as some observers made him out to be, and could be the guy to spell Reimer occasionally next season. If Giguere leaves as a free agent, the Leafs will lose a rock in the dressing room.
From the hash marks
Toronto lost some momentum when it was whistled for consecutive penalties in the first period. Matt Lashoff had 20 seconds left in a delay-of-game call when Joey Crabb took a bad penalty for hooking. Ovechkin, with Lashoff still in the box, buried a one-timer from the point ... Wilson will try to topple a personal milestone in the Leafsí final two games. Wilson has 619 victories, one behind Bryan Murray for sixth on the NHLís career list. Mike Keenan is fifth with 672 ... He has not had a lot of ink, but Lashoff has been fine as a late-season call-up. He certainly is an improvement as the sixth defenceman over the error-prone Brett Lebda ... Luke Schenn went into the game with 240 hits to lead all NHL defencemen and led the Leafs with 163 blocked shots. He was the only player in the league to have more than 200 hits and 150 blocked shots this season. Hands up if you think this guy is better captain material than Dion Phaneuf. Schenn gets that nod here.