Hurricanes’ James Reimer ‘incredible’ in first playoff start in 7 years

Sebastian Aho scored twice as the Carolina Hurricanes beat the New York Rangers 4-1 to sweep their series.

TORONTO – James Reimer only had to wait seven years between post-season starts.

Isn’t that about the time it takes for bad luck to run out?

When the Carolina Hurricanes goaltender glanced at the third-period scoreboard and saw 4-1 for the good guys, a clinched series only ticks away, he continued to bear down and accomplish the mission.

“You’re happy. You’re excited,” Reimer said of those final moments before the fist bumps. “But I don’t like taking things for granted, no matter how many minutes or seconds are left. I like to play to the last buzzer and then celebrate.”

Sure, it’s only a qualification round and Carolina still has 16 more wins to go. But Reimer stamped an exclamation mark on the Hurricanes’ 3-0 sweep of the New York Rangers Tuesday night — and bought his banged-up blue line an extra week’s rest in the bubble because of it.

Allow the 11-year veteran to savour this, his first post-season series victory between the pipes.

“His reputation as being a solid character, great human being is something we knew before we got him. That’s really important for guys we bring into this organization. That’s almost a prerequisite now,” said Hurricane coach Rod Brind’Amour, who encouraged the team to give Reimer an ovation in the dressing room.

“I’m really happy for him because he works really hard. He studies the craft more than probably any goalie in the league. He’s really dialled in on that, and obviously it paid off.”

Since 2013’s Game 7 disaster with the Toronto Maple Leafs and before getting the tap Tuesday, the 32-year-old Reimer’s only playoff action occurred during the San Jose Sharks’ 2016 run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Reimer contributed just 29 minutes of relief work in a 6-3 blowout loss to the St. Louis Blues that spring, but he said Tuesday he leaned on lessons he picked up behind the scenes from practising with a contender that lasted four rounds.

Although Brind’Amour informed Reimer well in advance that he’d be getting Game 3, the second half of a back-to-back, the No. 2 needed confirmation after Petr Mrazek put on strong performances and defeated the Rangers twice.

As has been the case all season, however, Carolina entrusted faith in both halves of its tandem, and was rewarded.

“It’s great to be back,” said Reimer, a smile omnipresent after being named the game’s first star.

“Playoff hockey is the best. That’s the most fun. Nothing can touch it. I’ve obviously had some fun and some disappointment here in the playoffs.

“It’s good to be back and to win games.”

Backs against the wall and boosted by the return of a healthy Igor Shesterkin in their own net, the Rangers came out pressing. Chris Kreider scored 12 seconds off the face-off, making Reimer pay on the first real shot he’d faced in more than five months.

All Reimer did was stop the next 37, denying a desperate team another gasp.

“Reims was on his head today,” Warren Foegele marvelled.

“If it wasn’t for Reims, the game would be over,” Brind’Amour said. “That was an incredible performance.”

His signature stop occurred during a flurry around his crease late in the second, when Reimer robbed Filip Chytil point blank with a lunged stick.

“Guys are diving all over the place,” Reimer said. “There’s no technique there. Just throw your paddle out and hope it hits it.”

It did. Then all the Hurricanes stood up and smacked their sticks on the boards, stirring an ovation the absent fans could not.

While Reimer’s previous post-season start was a nightmare of the highest order, this victory was the stuff dreams are made of — kinda.

“It’s not what you dreamed of. The fans are what brings the real excitement to the game,” Reimer said. “It sucks not having fans. Let’s be honest.”

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