TORONTO - When Martin Brodeur stacked the pads to stop league-leading scorer Phil Kessel, then got an arm on the improbable rebound, James Reimer had the same thought as 20,000 others at the Air Canada Centre.
“He has a billion wins for a reason,” said Reimer, who actually trails Brodeur just 631-24 in career victories. “It was pretty cool to play against him, but I’d have liked to be the one cheering at the end of the game.”
Reimer, and a whole generation of 21st century NHL netminders, will have a long way to go to catch Brodeur, who despite one of his worst seasons so far in 2011-12, is still capable of showing mid-1990s’ form when called upon.
Tuesday night’s 29 saves, including seven of eight shots by the destructive Kessel, put the Devils back to .500, from a hole they were put in when Brodeur came out of the gate slow and then was hurt. After missing six games, he was was rocked by the Leafs five times on 23 shots. Reimer was in the Toronto net that evening in Newark.
“Maybe he was a little rusty,” Reimer recalled. “Watching that game from a goalie’s perspective, he had a couple of (bad) breaks, a couple of goals that weren’t his fault. So you knew he’d come out and play well today and sure enough he did. We had a couple of good chances and he stoned us.”
Brodeur was candid at the morning skate that he had to play better, with the Devils suffering their first four-game slide under coach Peter DeBoer.
“The second save on Kessel was even better than the first,” awed teammate Zach Parise said. “I didn’t realize (Kessel) had knocked it out of the air. That was great to see, that they put a little bit of pressure on us and he made some great saves.”
But Brodeur has some praise for the sophomore Reimer, too, in his first home start since Oct. 19. Brodeur also has respect for a Toronto team that looks like it could give Jersey the kind of fight of a decade ago when they were sworn playoff enemies.
“It’s hard for us to play in this building,” Brodeur said. “The fans get into it and (the Leafs) get their second wind all the time. We played really well early on (getting out to a 2-0 lead), but they got themselves right back into the game.
“It’s hard (for Reimer) when you haven’t played for a while. It’s a momentum thing, but I think he’ll be fine. He’s a really good goalie.”
As has been the case through many of his exhibition and regular-season games, the Leafs’ penalty killers had a bad night with Reimer in net. Seven of his 21 goals against have been on the power play and the Leafs slacked off a bit near the end of John-Michael Liles’ penalty. allowing Ilya Kovalchuk a freebie.
“They have some pretty good players who know how to work a power play,” Reimer conceded.
Still in search of his elusive 25th career win, Reimer did make some incredible saves, including David Clarkson on a breakaway. The Toronto native had six shots in all, scoring twice to give him eight versus Toronto in a light-shooting career.
“We had a lot of adversity tonight, back to back games, three in four nights, a hard game last night ... to come out and battle the way we did and work as hard as we did, speaks a lot for our team,” Reimer said. “We were that close to a win, so we should hold our heads high.”
He was refering to Carl Gunnarsson’s Casey-At-The-Bat attempt to crush the overtime winner. The blast of wind must have been felt in the golds when he whiffed, with Clarkson scoring on the ensuing odd-man rush. Did Gunnarsson just try and put too much of an exclamation mark on the shot?
“Probably,” responded the defencemen, who along with Reimer, was one of the few to come out after the loss. “I’ll have to look at the replay.”
But few Leafs really wanted to see the dagger come out again.