Johnston on Leafs: Reimer facing demons head on

Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer sits in the dressing room during the Leafs final media availability of the 2013 season in Toronto. (CP/Frank Gunn)

TORONTO – There are moments where James Reimer is able to block out memories of what happened in Boston the other night.

They never last long.

“Sometimes you go through the day and you forget about it — you’re doing something (else) or you’re talking about something (else),” Reimer said Thursday. “Then all of a sudden you remember it and you just get that sickening feeling in your stomach and it just doesn’t go away.

“It’s crazy. I’ve had a couple tough losses, but I don’t think anything like that.”

The Toronto Maple Leafs starting goalie is intent on facing his demons head on.

In fact, after a largely sleepless night following Toronto’s 5-4 overtime in Game 7 against the Bruins, Reimer got out of bed and turned on the telecast of his team blowing a three-goal lead with 11 minutes to play.

“It was tough to watch,” he said.

His teammates weren’t quite so brave.

As the Toronto players gathered for one final time at Air Canada Centre on Thursday morning, they still seemed to be in a state of shock about how the season ended.

“I think everyone’s trying to not talk about it and not watch sports channels right now,” centre Tyler Bozak said.

He couldn’t believe that Reimer had already watched the entire “Collapse on Causeway” over again.

“I wouldn’t have done that,” Bozak said. “Some guys work differently.”

Despite the way it ended, Reimer emerged from his third NHL season with his head held high. His place as the team’s No. 1 goaltender certainly seemed more secure than it did back in January, although no one in a position of power here seems quite ready to guarantee it to him moving forward.

If not for Reimer, the Leafs almost certainly wouldn’t have found themselves beating Boston 4-1 in Game 7.

He made 72 combined saves in Games 5 and 6 — both must-win games — and can really only be faulted directly for one of the Boston goals late in Game 7.

This was always going to be a season dedicated to finding out more about some of the untested players on the Leafs roster and general manager Dave Nonis emerged with a clearer picture of what he has in the crease.

“At this point, I’d say he’ll be back as No. 1,” Nonis said of Reimer. “He did a very good job for us. I think his mental makeup and mental strength is something that was a question last year and I think it’s clear that a lot of his issues a year ago were based upon his health. When we needed quality goaltending, for the most part … James was very good.

“I don’t think anybody can point to goaltending as an issue with our team.”

There will still been calls from some corners for the Leafs to go out and find an upgrade. It’s inevitable.

But a closer look at what happened this year suggests that Toronto should be fine with the status quo. Reimer was eighth among NHL goalies during the regular season with a .924 save percentage and followed that up by posting a .923 in the playoffs — the exact same as Bruins counterpart Tuukka Rask.

He wasn’t the reason the team was packing up its gear on Thursday rather than opening a second-round series with the New York Rangers.

It’s no secret that Nonis pursued veteran Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff at the trade deadline, but the GM made it clear on Thursday that he didn’t do that in response to a request from coach Randy Carlyle.

In fact, he indicated that Carlyle believed Reimer deserved the chance to carry the ball into the playoffs.

“When you take the steps that we took and the players played as hard as they played, it was important to give them a chance to finish it,” Nonis said. “I talked to Randy at length about this when certain people were available. …

“There were times we talked about a player and then Randy would say `We can’t take that kid out of the lineup because they’ve given us whatever they have and we have to let them finish it.”‘

The same mantra should hold true entering the 2013-14 season.

Reimer is still just 25 years old and hasn’t entered the traditional prime for an elite goaltender. Before heading home for the summer, he expressed hope that there would be a little less speculation about his role with the team.

“I’m sure there’s always going to be chatter but it might be a little calmer off-season,” Reimer said. “That wouldn’t change the way I approach it. Whether there’s rumours swirling around or not, I try and work as hard as I can and try to be the best professional I can in the summer.”

Like every other member of the team, he’ll have to work at moving past what happened against the Bruins in Game 7.

Carlyle said it best when he was asked Thursday for his reflections on that game: “The feeling is frustration, it’s a lack of accomplishment. At times you feel you were hit between the eyes with a hammer.”

If Reimer has excelled at one thing during his time with the Leafs, it’s having the ability to shake things off and come back stronger.

A man of deep faith, he vowed to come up big the next time he’s put in an important situation on the ice.

“I do believe that it happened for a reason,” Reimer said. “I’m not quite sure of it yet and you might never know either. But you obviously take some positives from it and you learn from it and you’ll be a better person even if you never find out why it did happen.”

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