James Reimer is back. The Toronto Maple Leafs goalie made his first start on home ice since returning from a head injury and went toe-to-toe with New Jersey Devils’ Martin Brodeur on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre.
In the end, Reimer and the rest of the Leafs came up just short losing 3-2 in overtime after overcoming an early 2-0 deficit and outplaying the Devils in the final two periods.
The Leafs were playing its third game in four nights and less than 24 hours after winning a big game in New York against the Rangers on Monday night. The travel and fatigue seemed to catch up with the team as Toronto looked sluggish early.
The Devils took advantage scoring on two power play goals from Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson within the first nine minutes and outshot the Leafs 11-4 in the first period.
"We weren't ready to start the game," said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. "We just didn't have our legs and our minds into it and New Jersey was sharp, ready and they took advantage of us."
New Jersey nearly went up 3-0 early in the second period when a shot got behind Reimer and hit the post before being cleared out of harm’s way. From there on the Leafs picked played better all round and dominated the rest of the period as well as most of the game.
Phil Kessel scored his 17th goal of the season and is now tied with Jonathon Toews for the NHL goal-scoring lead. Matt Frattin added the other Leafs goal early in the third period.
"Playing a lot of games in just a short amount of days and then the travel last night and then to be down 2-0, we could have thrown in the towel and gave up and we didn't," said Reimer who missed a total of 18 games before returning from injury in Saturday’s 4-1 loss in Boston.
"We battled hard and we came out and I thought we dominated for most of the last two periods and that shows a ton about our team. We deserved the two points but we for sure deserved the one point."
Reimer made 23 saves in the loss but made several big saves to keep his team in the game.
“You can’t fault him for any of the goals tonight,” said Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn. “He made some huge timely saves like he usually does for us. He’s a welcome addition back there and we’re definitely happy to have him back.”
Even though Reimer was disappointed with the loss, he still showed off his trademark smile and was happy to play in front of the home crowd again.
“Yeah, that was a lot of fun,” said Reimer. “Hockey is what I love to do and playing at home is the most fun, in front of the fans – the crowd, the city – that’s when the game is the most fun, most special. To come out here and start the game was pretty awesome.”
At the other end of the ice, Brodeur had a stellar game in goal as well and robbed the Leafs on several occasions to finish with 29 saves.
“He (Brodeur) was a huge reason their two points tonight. He made some huge saves,” said Schenn.
“We threw a lot of pucks at him, especially in the second half of the game and he was there making a ton of great saves, controlled his rebounds real well. He’s the best in the game for a reason.”Taking Advantage
With Leafs defenceman John-Michael Liles in the penalty box for high-sticking, the Devils pressured the Leafs early in the first period. New Jersey worked the puck around and nearly scored on a one-timer by Clarkson from the slot, but Reimer showed off incredible reflexes to keep the puck out.
Less than a minute later, Reimer’s reflexes were not quick enough to stop a one-timer from Kovalchuk on a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that blew right by him.
On another power play short while later, Clarkson took a centering pass and was all alone in front of the net. He patiently out waited Reimer sliding across and put the puck into the empty net to make it 2-0.
With seven and half minutes left in the first period, Kessel used a burst of speed and blew past Devils defenceman Henrik Tallinder for a breakaway. But the Leafs forward was robbed by Brodeur who stacked the pads and kicked the puck out of mid-air.
Early in the second period, Leafs forward Philippe Dupuis stole the puck while shorthanded for a partial breakaway. But Brodeur made another great save stopping the shot with his blocker low stick-side. Moments later, the Devils fired a shot off the post and bounced out into the crease, but it was cleared before Patrik Elias could bang the puck in.
The Leafs finally solved Brodeur at 11:29 of the second period, but needed a lucky bounce to get on the board. After taking a pass from Kessel at the blue line, Joffrey Lupul drove wide and backhanded a shot that was stopped by Brodeur. But the puck bounced off of Kessel’s right skate and in and closed the gap to 2-1.
The Leafs dominated the second period and outshot the Devils 16-4, but were stymied by Brodeur.
Toronto was finally rewarded early in the third period when Frattin drove past Devils defenceman Adam Larsson and fired a snap shot high past Brodeur to tie the game at 2-2.
Both goalies had to make some big saves in the third period, but Reimer made the biggest stop with 3:50 left. A turnover at the Leafs blue line sent Clarkson in all alone, but Reimer stuck out his blocker to make a game-saving stop.
The Leafs had a power play with 2:16 left in the period, but were unable to create any chances resulting in overtime.
Halfway through the extra frame, Carl Gunnarsson fanned on a one-timer and was quickly moved up ice by Dainius Zubrus. After gaining the Leafs zone, the Devils forward turned and centred to Clarkson who snapped the shot through Reimer’s legs for the winner.
The Leafs will regroup and will head back out on the road for a game in Washington on Friday night before returning home to face the Carolina Hurricanes at home next Tuesday.
This article was originally published on Oye! Times