James Reimer watched his mask drop into a hockey bag with a satisfying ‘plonk’ on Friday, knowing he’ll finally use it in a real game again in the next few days.
The Maple Leafs’ No. 1 goaltender pronounced himself able and willing to take on the Bruins on Saturday night to try and stop Boston running away with this home-and-home and the season’s series. However, cagey coach Ron Wilson is wavering a bit on his stated plan of re-introducing Reimer through a backup role Saturday and start him Monday in New York against the Rangers, but is keeping that possibility open.
“We’ve talked about it, but more than likely it’s going to be Gustavsson (at Boston),” Wilson said at the MasterCard Centre. “I read that (Buffalo’s concussed) Ryan Miller is dressing tonight, but not playing. Wanting to get (a recovering) goalie back into the game-day routine as a backup is not a bad idea. This isn’t being definitive on anything, but we’ve told Gustavsson he is playing tomorrow.”
Saturday marks six weeks since Reimer’s eggs were scrambled by a Brian Gionta hit against the Canadiens. The Leafs won the game to keep Reimer undefeated (4-0-1) and, to their credit, have a record of 9-7-1 minus the man projected as their MVP, amid other injuries. But as good as Gustavsson has been, Boston crushed him in two of the three meetings, and sent Ben Scrivens to an early shower in the other. Does that not mean Reimer should get strong consideration to play a day earlier?
“When you’re cleared to play, you’re ready to go,” Reimer said of getting the green light this week. “I’ve taken a few dings off the head, shots off my shoulders and there’s nothing (no pain). I’m 100%, or 120% if you want.
“This is what I love to do. It was so boring hanging around in here when I couldn’t practise. You wanted to get out there so badly. There are positives (to sitting), too. You get to see the game from a different perspective. I tried to take this time and learn the game better.”
Reimer said he won’t hesitate to risk contact when it gets messy in the crease, the hallmark of a few Bruins.
“They’ll do their job, I’ll do mine,” Reimer said of the scenario. “Division rivals, you hate them more than anyone else. We beat them a few times down the stretch last year, I’m sure we can do it again.”
Gustavsson’s NHL job status looked shaky when Scrivens put on a show for a few days, but take away the Boston games and he has an 8-3.
“I’m just happy to play a couple of games and get a couple of points for the team,” Gustavsson said of eventually going back to the end of the bench.
Boston’s 19 goals are already as many as the Leafs gave up in a six-game series against any Northeast Division rival last season. Toronto has responded with just five goals, a key reason why Wilson shuffled his lines on Friday. The cursed Nikolai Kulemin is now back with Mikhail Grabovski, while regular left winger Clarke MacArthur remains on a more high-profile unit with Tim Connolly and Matt Frattin.
The latest result against the Bruins was not indicative of the game being so close until the final five minutes, when Milan Lucic made it 5-3 and an empty-netter ensued.
“They’re a big group with great sticks and you saw that they don’t take very many penalties,” Wilson said in a sly reference to Wednesday’s power-play imbalance in Boston’s favour. “We have to try and score off the rush and get better at scoring in front of the net. Tim Thomas saw a lot of those shots (traffic free) the other night and we want him to have to work, dig in and be a little deeper in his net.”
The Leafs will likely add Cody Franson on defence, at the expense of Keith Aulie, with Franson bringing a harder shot.
There was to be a father-son dinner hosted by the team in Boston on Friday night and the special guests will also be in New York. Wilson said the presence of the fathers in the stands is not always the hoped-for inspiration to sons.
“One time we did this when we were a really good team in San Jose,” Wilson recalled. “Phoenix was dead last when we went in there with the dads and we lost 7-0. It was the worst loss we ever had.”