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NHL Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: James Reimer Fuels Goalie Controversy With Impressive Win

James Reimer

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Randy Carlyle put his neck on the line after he decided to start James Reimer for the Toronto Maple Leafs when they hosted the Minnesota Wild.

The goaltender didn’t disappoint his head coach as Reimer stood on his head, stopping 36-of-37 shots for a 4-1 Leafs victory over the Wild.

Carlyle showed the level of confidence he has in Reimer when he decided to start the goaltender over Jonathan Bernier. If the Leafs lost to Minnesota with Reimer in net, Carlyle would have been ripped apart by the media for his decision not to play Bernier, who was 4-1 on the season entering the contest, (including a shutout over the Nashville Predators along with being named the second-star of the game in his only loss) and looked like he had become the team’s new No. 1 starting goaltender.

This put all the pressure in the world squarely on Reimer’s shoulders. If he struggled against Minnesota, it would likely be awhile before he was placed in-between the pipes again, considering he was pulled in his previous start. Reimer proved to everyone, after his outstanding performance against the Wild, he isn’t going to hand over the No. 1 goaltending job without a fight.

In the first period, the Leafs were outshot 18-3 after taking four penalties, yet managed to enter the intermission with a 2-1 lead due to Reimer’s play. Toronto began the second period by committing multiple turnovers, leading to back-to-back breakaways for Minnesota. Reimer slammed the door shut on the attempts, refusing to surrender the lead for his team. Minutes after the second breakaway, the Leafs scored to increase their lead to 3-1 and it was all Reimer needed to secure the win before an empty net goal sealed victory

Given Bernier’s strong play to start the year, the easy decision entering the night would have been to give him the start against Minnesota. However, a questionable performance by Bernier against the Edmonton Oilers, which saw the Leafs escape with a 6-5 win in their previous game, made Carlyle put Reimer back in net.

Bernier’s play wasn’t nearly as solid against the Oilers as it had been in his previous outings, despite a save-of-the-year candidate where the goaltender robbed Edmonton’s Mark Arcobello with the Leafs down a goal in the final five minutes. Arcobello was all alone with a wide-open net before Bernier’s glove came from out of nowhere to snatch the puck. Not long after the game-saving moment, Joffrey Lupul scored to tie the game forcing overtime where Dave Bolland scored the game-winning goal for Toronto.

Despite allowing five goals in the contest, because of Bernier’s impressive save in the final minutes, many expected him to be the starter versus the Wild since he stepped up when his team needed him the most. However, there was a feeling that after his shutout against the Predators, Bernier had grown comfortable with the thought of being Toronto’s No. 1 goaltender, which resulted in a lack of focus and intensity against the Oilers.

Had Bernier responded from his shutout with another strong showing against Edmonton, chances are he’d be the undisputed starting goaltender for the Leafs. Unfortunately, Bernier’s lackluster performance left the door open for Reimer to enter back into the equation and Reimer took full advantage of the opportunity.

With Reimer being named the first star of the game against Minnesota, the Leafs are showing they have two quality goaltenders capable of stealing games. Both may struggle at times, but both have proven they have the drive and confidence needed to succeed in the league more times than not.

If anybody thought they knew who’d be starting in net for Toronto moving forward before the game against the Wild, they certainly have no clue now thanks to Reimer.

The Leafs’ goalie controversy just got a whole lot more interesting.