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article imageStaying Alive: Reimer redemption in OT win over Boston Special

By Dave Pitman     Apr 4, 2014 in Sports
Toronto - Filled with energy and optimism just two periods earlier, tension crept near the boiling point late in the third period at the Air Canada Center Thursday night.
An eerily similar feeling loomed over the Maple Leafs as their season seemed near it's end, but James Reimer would not be denied a chance to prove himself in the biggest game of the season, entering late in the third period to replace injured Jonathan Bernier. The Leafs would go on to win 4-3 in overtime.
"Unbelievable, Reims has been a focal point all year and it seems like he's the first guy that everyone seems to hop on when the team doesn't do so well… For a goalie, thats tough.. not feeling any pucks, end of the third period and having to go in against a Boston Bruins power play… it's tough to do and Reims made it look easy." Nazem Kadri spoke highly of his goaltender, post game.
It's been a tale of two seasons for the clubs: The Boston Bruins have had nothing but success in the 2013-14 season, sitting atop the Eastern Conference with a ticket to the post-season already booked. The Toronto Maple Leafs, however, are on the outside looking in, clawing desperately to get back into the wild card spot currently occupied by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The task would be tough for the Maple Leafs - Boston enjoyed a spectacular month of March earning 31 points - their best month of the year to date. The Maple Leafs, however, accumulated a season low 9 points in March, by far their worst output of the season and ultimately may prove too much of a hole to climb out of.
Playing just one night prior, Boston would rest all-star net minder Tuuka Rask and start backup Chad Johnson instead. Although considered to be the teams number two option, Johnson's numbers are far from normal for a backup - He entered the game with 17 wins, 2.04 GAA and a .939 SV %. The Maple Leafs would counter with Jonathan Bernier, his fifth consecutive start.
Joffrey Lupul practiced with the team Thursday morning, but was unable to play in his 600th career game do to a lower body injury suffered tuesday against Calgary. Lupul leads all Leafs players in assists (12) and points (18) against Boston in 23 games played.
The game was a polar opposite of Tuesday's struggle with Calgary as both the Maple Leafs and Bruins went on the attack, trading chances early. Paul Ranger got the Maple Leafs on the board first, beating Johnson on a backhand shot six minutes into play. The lead would not last, however, as less than a minute later Cody Franson was caught with a terrible give-away, putting the puck on the stick of Brad Marchand wide open in front with no chance for Bernier to stop him. The pace would continue through the period, and with time winding down on the clock, Phil Kessel let a shot go from the side boards that bounced off Tyler Bozak and in for his 18th of the season. A meager 12 seconds remained on the clock.
Carrying the lead into the second period, momentum followed the Maple Leafs as they quickly struck again. 52 seconds into the frame, Phil Kessel found James van Riemsdyk all alone in front of the net in a play that seemed to surprise Johnson. The goal was van Riemsdyk's 30th of the year, a career high. Toronto would keep their foot on the pedal throughout the period with a mixture of penetrating rushes and responsible defensive plays that kept the score locked in at 3-1 through two periods of play.
Statistically, The Maple Leafs have proven they can close out games this season with a 25-1-2 record when leading after two periods. Historically, the Bruins have never seemed to care much for stats like those. The third period was dominated by Boston, out-shooting Toronto 10-1 by the midway point. Milan Lucic would bring the Bruins to within one, clapping a one-timer off a David Krejci pass. Things would go from bad to worse from there as Jonathan Bernier would have to leave the game with the help of team trainers after Patrice Bergeron was checked into him. Bernier missed two weeks with a groin injury just a few weeks prior, and he looked to be very much in pain. James Reimer was forced to enter the game on a Boston power play, where he stood tall, blocking away numerous shots on net. The Bruins would eventually get one by Reimer, a goal almost identical to the one prior, as Patrice Bergeron finished off a one-timer from Brad Marchand out front. Tied 3-3, the game would need overtime to be decided.
Playing a season low 11:40, Nazem Kadri was dropped to fourth line duties by Randy Carlyle in the game. Carlyle would roll with Kadri on the power play, however, when Tyler Bozak drew a holding penalty a few minutes into the extra period. With their season on the line, Nazem Kadri played the hero, burying a rebound and keeping the faint playoffs hopes alive in Toronto.
"It's out of my control, I just worry about what I can bring to the team every single day… If I'm first line or fourth line it doesn't matter to me, I'm still going to play my game and try to contribute as much as possible.", Kadri told reporters post game in a packed Maple Leafs dressing room, "We've never stopped believing… We got a couple wins in a row, but we're far from done."
Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf called it a "character win" for his club, but stressed they aren't in a position to bask in the victory.
"Now our focus moves to Saturday. We're really not looking past our next game, I know that sounds cliché but thats the truth. We cannot look past out next one because that's the biggest one of the year for us.", Phaneuf told reporters.
With comparisons to last years game seven breakdown, Phaneuf was proud of James Reimer's ability to come in cold and deliver big.
"Thats a tough situation for him to come into...He came in and did a great job for us. He came in and made some big saves… He was calm… He was good in every minute that he played…"
But amidst the celebration of Reimer, Phaneuf was quick to remind reporters of the costly loss of Jonathan Bernier.
"[Bernier] has done so much for our team, and he's such a big part of our team…I don't know the severity of it, I'm not going to comment on it, but when we lose him to injury there… It was definitely a blow to our team.
James Reimer knew something was wrong with Jonathan Bernier as soon as the play unfolded.
"The way he was acting, I know what it's like to get hurt out there… I tried to hop over the bench as soon as possible and start getting warmed up.", said Reimer.
Despite taking criticism of late, Reimer received a warm reception as he entered the game to replace Jonathan Bernier.
"I heard the cheer when I came in. The fans have been great, there was some negativity that's been going on but the support has been ten-fold… I love playing here, the support I feel is unbelievable, especially tonight."
The win keeps the Maple Leafs alive in the wildcard chase in the Eastern conference, but with Columbus picking up a regulation win in Philadelphia, the Leafs will need to continue their winning ways through the last four games of the year to even hope to qualify. As of now, their playoff chances stand at 9.9%. The team will host Winnipeg on Saturday night.
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