TORONTO – For the first time in his NHL career, James Reimer didn’t allow a puck to get past him in a game. But it was a handful shots that never made it through that had the Toronto Maple Leafs goalie most excited.
Tim Brent put on a shotblocking clinic during a stirring 5-on-3 penalty kill Thursday, desperately throwing his body in front of a handful of pucks in Toronto’s 3-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
Luke Schenn and Francois Beauchemin also blocked some shots during a two-man disadvantage that lasted one minute 36 seconds in the second period. It was a key sequence that helped the rookie goaltender register his first NHL shutout in just his ninth appearance.
“I didn’t really think it was going to come this soon, I wasn’t really expecting it,” said Reimer. “It’s nice to get. I wish I could take credit for it, but I can’t—the team played phenomenal today.”
A hooking penalty to Reimer put the Leafs down two men and the subsequent penalty kill might have drawn the loudest ovation from the crowd at Air Canada Centre all season.
Brent is a journeyman AHLer who has caught on with the Maple Leafs in a checking role this season. He was all over the ice during the big penalty kill—even blocking one shot in a sensitive area: “The men in the room would understand how much (that) hurt,” he said—and had players from both teams praising the effort.
“He was paying the price,” said Hurricanes captain Eric Staal. “I was laying into them as hard as I could. I thought if I could get it by it him, it had a pretty good chance of going in the net.”
Added Leafs forward Kris Versteeg: “That was one hell of a shift by that kid.”
Reimer was probably the most appreciative of all.
“I was about to take off my pads and give them to him,” he said. “I think he blocked about 30 or 40 shots there.”
Versteeg, Clarke MacArthur and Darryl Boyce had the goals for Toronto (21-25-5), which shut out a team for the first time this season. The Leafs have been blanked eight times.
Carolina saw its record fall to 25-21-6—leaving it one point behind eighth-place Atlanta in the Eastern Conference standings.
Reimer’s emergence has been a big surprise in Toronto, where he’s elbowed Jonas Gustavsson out of a job for the time being. The Monster watched Thursday’s game from the pressbox while J.S. Giguere served as backup.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson was intentionally cautious in his assesment of Reimer’s play, but made it pretty clear who his two goalies are likely to be for the final 31 games of the regular season.
“I have no hesitation to play him or (Giguere),” said Wilson. “I think it’s horses for courses right now.”
The most important of Reimer’s 27 saves came on a Chad LaRose breakaway late in the second period. It ensured that the Leafs entered the final 20 minutes with a 2-0 lead.
“He made a big save on Rosie,” said Staal. “That would have cut it to 2-1 and we’re feeling better going into the third period. But it was too late for us to get it going.”
Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward made one of the best saves of the entire NHL season in the third period, when he dove across his net and miraculously got a glove on Brent’s shot. The Leafs forward figured it was payback for the nice short-handed goal he scored against Ward a little over a week ago.
“I’m going to be on the other end of the highlight I think now,” said Brent.
The most interesting storyline around the Leafs over the balance of the season is how they handle the goaltenders.
Reimer earned his first callup in December when Giguere suffered a groin injury and has been back and forth to the AHL once since. This time, it looks like he’ll be around for awhile.
“Obviously I’m aware of the situation,” said Reimer. “My job security up here, there isn’t much of that. But as soon as I let those thoughts creep into my mind, I’m going to get nervous out there and it’s going to get to me.
“I’ve just got to forget about it and focus on what I can control.”
Notes:Boyce left the game in the second period after cutting his face on the hole in the glass for photographers and didn’t return … Gustavsson has made one appearance since Jan. 7 … Carolina’s Jussi Jokinen sat out with a lower-body injury. The Hurricanes have just 25 man games lost to injury this season … Tomas Kaberle has played 871 career games as a Leaf—669 more than Nikolai Kulemin, the next highest among current players … Fergie Jenkins dropped the puck on the ceremonial faceoff … Announced attendance was 19,220.