Boston — There were always skeptics of James Reimer out there.
Sure, he played well for 35 games in 2011. He struggled to find his form in an injury-plagued season the following year, prompting many (myself included) to implore the Maple Leafs to add a veteran presence to help him out should he falter.
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In this recent shortened regular season, Reimer recaptured the magic from two years ago. Still, the goaltending came into question, so much so that Leafs general manager Dave Nonis explored the option of bringing in Calgary Flames veteran netminder Miikka Kiprusoff.
Once the deadline passed, Reimer got the keys to the car. He was ensured, barring health, that he was going to get his first shot at playoff experience.
Through the four playoff games preceding Friday night’s, James Reimer was just okay. He struggled in the opening game and slowly began to improve. But questions about his rebound control would percolate.
On the morning of Game 5, Reimer was challenged just as all of the Leafs were by their coach.
"When you’re sitting in a situation where you’re down 3-1, he’s not any different than any other member of our hockey club, there’s more to give," Randy Carlyle said.
The opening period of Game 5 was all about his opposition making save after save, as the Maple Leafs peppered shots towards Tuukka Rask.
The second period is where Reimer had his moment.
At the 9:35 mark of the middle frame, Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron had a wide open net after the puck deflected in front of him. With Reimer out of position, the Leaf goaltender did the splits, managing to get his toe on the puck to save a certain Boston goal.
"I’m not quite sure," Reimer said of his save and how he managed to get across in time. "You just try and get something over there."
However, how Reimer describes it really doesn’t matter. The save reverberated within the Leafs bench and, less than two minutes later Leaf forward Tyler Bozak would score shorthanded to draw first blood.
"He’s created huge sparks for us all season," Bozak said of Reimer following the game. "I think he’s proved he’s a No. 1 over the past couple of years. There’s always speculation from everyone but we believe in him in this room and he’s given us a chance to win every night. We’re going to need him every night and he’s been doing that for us."
After Clarke MacArthur scored his second goal in two games for Toronto, the Bruins began an onslaught towards Reimer. They got one past him when Zdeno Chara wired a shot from the point, which cut the lead in half with 9:48 to go in regulation time.
Reimer would shut the door from that point forward, getting some help from the knob of his stick when he stopped Jaromir Jagr with just under 12 seconds left in the game.
"As a young goaltender he’s been presented with a lot of pressure and he’s remained fairly calm and level headed," Carlyle said following the game. "You can see the growth of a hockey player, specifically a goaltender that’s finding his way and learning some of the intricacies of playoff hockey and the experience should be valuable to him."
It’s a huge step in the right direction for Reimer. Playoff hockey demands stellar performances from every team’s goaltender. In a seven-game series, the netminder always has to steal a game or two.
We weren’t really sure up until this point if we were going to see that from Reimer. The odds were stacked against him down 3-1 in a first-round series, with the enemy licking their chops to close it out at home.
But Reimer rose to the occasion and has given his detractors a bit of a different view that maybe Toronto can somehow crawl out of the series on top.
The Leafs head back to Toronto down 3-2, but they have played well over the last couple of games.
Momentum is on their side and Reimer is a big reason for that.