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article imageReimer out-duels Smith as Maple Leafs win in shoot-out Special

By Dave Pitman     Dec 19, 2013 in Sports
Toronto - A newfound sense of confidence lingers in the Maple Leafs locker room after Thursdays game against the Phoenix Coyotes that saw the Leafs come out on top 2-1 in a shoot out.
It was the first time the Leafs have beaten the Coyotes in Toronto since Oct 17, 2002. Mike Smith has been great against the Leafs in his career going 3-0-1 with a 2.40 GAA and .928 SV% in four career games versus Toronto. He would be brilliant tonight, as well, making 26 saves in regulation; some of which were highlight reel worthy material, and a sample of why his name is constantly brought up in talks of Team Canada Sochi Olympics goal-tending.
Unfortunately for Phoenix, James Reimer was nothing short of brilliant on the other end. Reimer made 34 saves in regulation; 11 in the third period to keep the Leafs in the game. A complete 180 degrees turnaround from his temperament after Tuesday nights loss, Reimer was all smiles as he explained to reporters what motivated his teams performance.
"…You're judged on how you respond…", said Reimer through a grin, "Everybody in here stepped up."
The Maple Leafs were dreadful Tuesday night when they hosted the Florida Panthers. The mood in the room was sour, and media pounced on Toronto for their lack of competitiveness. But the Maple Leafs players responded in a big way Thursday night, playing tough against a very speedy and physical Coyotes team.
Trading chances from the moment the puck dropped, The Maple Leafs would draw first blood in period one. Good thing; The Coyotes are 127-17-20 all time when scoring first, but that would be no concern tonight. Working the puck around the Blue line, Cody Franson would send a snap shot to the net through traffic. Smith made the pad save, but Troy Bodie was parked in front and banked the rebound in to score his first as a Maple Leaf. The pace would not let up following the goal, and there would be no question of competitiveness on this night.
The second period brought much of the same action as the first; Both the Maple Leafs and Coyotes continued the strong physical play and would trade chances. The Maple Leafs would get an opportunity off the rush but Mike Smith would make 3 fantastic saves on what looked like it would be a sure goal. After two periods, the score would remain the same at 1-0. Good chances for both teams and great goaltending would continue to be the story.
The strong play would continue in the third. With the Air Canada Centre support staff on strike, the ice conditions were not at peak condition, which made for a very tight checking game. Mistakes had be be minimal, and attentiveness high. Both goaltenders would continue their stellar play, but with 4:52 remaining on the clock, Martin Hanzal broke his scoring slump and put one past Reimer. The Maple Leafs backstopper's memory would have to be short, however, as Phoenix would continue to press all the way until 0:00 on the clock.
Overtime brought much of the same for the Leafs net minder. The Coyotes would press hard, out-shooting the Leafs 5-2 in the extra five minutes, but it would have to be a shootout that decided this game.
Toronto's first shooter was James Van Riemsdyk. Van Riemsdyk closed in on Smith and made a move, trying to slide the puck five-hole. Smith would get a piece of the puck but his momentum carried him into the net. It was unclear at first, whether or not the puck actually crossed the line, but after reviewing the play the refs would made the right call; The goal would stand. Phoenix would even it right back up as Mikkel Boedker put a beautiful deke on Reimer and put it to the back of the net. Mason Raymond would miss, so would Phoenix, leaving it up to Lupul to score the eventual game winning goal. James Reimer would close it out and move to 3-0 in shootout's this season. It was a much needed two points for the Maple Leafs.
James Van Riemsdyk remembered a similar play from his younger days, but didn't second guess his goal for a second in the shoot out.
"I remember a similar play when I was in the World Juniors… Carey Price made a similar save… They couldn't tell if it was in or not…", He told reporters post game, "For sure, I knew it was in tonight."
James Reimer played in back to back games for the first time since November. Jonathan Bernier was unavailable to play in this game, but Randy Carlyle was quick to praise his goaltender tonight.
"Bernier is recovering from an ailment…He told us in this mornings skate he wasn't 110%, so we said that's fine, we'll go with Reimer.", Carlyle said in the post-game presser, "Tonight was another night where James Reimer stepped up."
It wasn't the first or second scoring lines that would get Toronto to overtime tonight, but the fourth line. Not typically depended on to score, Carlyle was very pleased with the lines efforts.
"Anytime you can get a contribution from your fourth line, its a real bonus for your club", said Carlyle, "Its a boost to the team, and a boost to their confidence."
David Clarkson was given the task of shutting down the Coyotes top line, and played very well in this role. Clarkson logged a season high 21:31 in the game.
The Leafs have won just one out of their last sixteen games in regulation, which is a problem that needs to be addressed. For now, Toronto would savor the win and try to build on it moving forward. The Maple Leafs will host the Detroit Redwings Saturday night at the ACC, a preview to New Years day's Winter Classic.
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