Like It or Not, Toronto Maple Leafs’ Postseason Hopes Rest on James Reimer

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

When a team struggles in the NHL, the player who usually catches the most heat from fans and media alike is the goalie. Just ask Toronto Maple Leafs backup James Reimer.

After last year’s postseason collapse against the Boston Bruins, in which a 4-1 lead was erased with ten minutes left in Game 7, Reimer was given his fair share of criticism. During the offseason, the Leafs acquired Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings, and almost immediately labeled him as the team’s starting goalie over Reimer. Things got dicey when Bernier was injured last month and, when thrust into the starting role, Reimer lost five straight games. This kicked off Toronto’s infamous eight-game skid that saw them tumble out of postseason contention. Things got so bad for Reimer that his wife was having insults thrown her way from fans via Twitter.

The Leafs rebounded from the losing streak, winning their last two games and putting themselves just a point out of the playoff picture. Unfortunately for Reimer haters, though, Toronto will have to rely on their backup in attempts to get a postseason berth.

During the third period of last night’s game against the Bruins, Bernier left with an injury as the team nursed a 3-2 lead. Reimer came in and quickly gave up the game-tying goal. Luckily for him, Nazem Kadri scored in overtime to net the Leafs a much-needed victory. However, Toronto’s luck took a hit this morning when Bernier’s diagnosis was announced.

The Leafs stated today that Bernier suffered an MCL strain, and will be out two to three weeks. So, like it or not, the Toronto faithful now must pin their playoff hopes on Reimer.

For Reimer, this is obviously a huge opportunity. It’s a shot at redemption after last season’s unfortunate ending, a way to prove he can indeed handle the spotlight. If he can play strong in net, allowing Toronto to make the postseason, it would be a great way to show Leafs fans everywhere he can be reliable when they need him the most.

Of course, things won’t be nearly as pleasant if Reimer struggles, and stats indicate this could happen. He’s played in 33 games this season, the same number of games played last year. However, where last season his GAA was a solid 2.46, this year it spiked to a paltry 3.39. As you can see, this isn’t exactly confidence-building.

Speaking of which, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising if Reimer’s confidence in general was more than a little shaky. You’ve got a goalie who, in one calendar year, played a role in his team’s epic playoff collapse, saw his club trade for a new goalie who immediately came in and took his starting job, then played in the first five games of an eight-game losing streak that put the entire season in jeopardy. It’d be struggle to believe Reimer is calm, cool and collected.

Whether or not his confidence is on hand, Reimer’s teammates are relying on him to get the job done. If he can help Toronto get back into the playoffs, he’ll go a long way towards cleaning his slate and getting the fans off his back. However, if he folds under pressure, things are going to get even uglier for Toronto’s embattled backup.

Casey Drottar is an NHL writer for Rantsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @CDrottar19 or “Like” him on Facebook

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