Pop quiz time. When was the last time a goaltender drafted and developed by the Toronto Maple Leafs won a playoff game for the organization?
If you guessed Felix Potvin in 1996, grab a gold star and head straight to the front of the class. If you think it’s outrageous that the last homegrown guy to pick up a post-season win was drafted 23 years ago, that’s OK, too.
We don’t know yet whether James Reimer will put an end to that rather inauspicious streak of futility, but if he plays in the post-season the way he did against a future Hall of Famer Monday night, you’d have to think the cars will be honking their horns and the yahoos with the tin foil Stanley Cups will be out in full force for at least one game this spring.
All of which, of course, is a departure for the Maple Leafs. Although they have yet to officially punch their ticket to the post-season, it’s only a matter of time and it’s because one of the many things that has turned around for the Maple Leafs is goaltending. He may not look like an oil painting in the Leafs net, he handles the puck like it’s a hand grenade sometimes and his rebound control is iffy…but all Reimer has done this season is put the Leafs in a position to win. And in games such as Monday night, when Toronto beat the New Jersey Devils 2-0 despite being outshot 32-13, he occasionally delivers those kinds of goaltending performances that every playoff-bound team needs – the ones where the team has no business winning the game, but does because their goaltender saves them.
Even the aforementioned Hall of Famer at the other end of the ice, Martin Brodeur, was impressed with Reimer’s performance.
“If he plays like that every game, I don’t know why they’re looking to get another goalie in here,” Brodeur said. “He was unbelievable. He stays in his net and plays within himself. He looked really good, really confident.”
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the effort from a Maple Leaf perspective is that neither coach Randy Carlyle nor Reimer himself thought it was anything out of the ordinary. That represents a huge culture change in these parts on a couple of fronts. First, these are the kinds of games the Leafs always lost when they were non-playoff participants. Second, it’s this kind of effort – sometimes from their goaltenders, other times from other players – that the coaching staff has come to expect.
“The mantra that we’ve tried to create is, ‘Just give us a chance,’ ” Carlyle said. “And he did that.”
He did that by being as square to the shooters on the Devils as he has been against anyone this season, by controlling rebounds and playing a game that, for most of the night, did not look spectacular because he was playing so technically well. (The improvement in Reimer’s mechanics can’t have anything at all to do with the fact that Rick St. Croix replaced Francois Allaire as the Maple Leafs goaltending coach, can it? Didn’t think so.)
You get the impression the Blue and White disease, that sense of entitlement that many think has enveloped the organization, is in the process of slowly disintegrating. Excuses for losing, such as being outshot 32-13, don’t seem to be quite as acceptable anymore.
“We’re expected to win at all costs, no matter what happens,” Reimer said. “Sometimes some players don’t play well and others step up. You just have to find a way to win no matter what and tonight we were able to do that.”
At the other end of the rink, Martin Brodeur played his 10th straight game without winning one. It’s by far the longest stretch of futility of Brodeur’s career when he has been healthy – his previous mark was six. Of course, when your team outshoots its opponents by a combined 65-24 and doesn’t score a goal, it’s difficult for even Brodeur to deliver a victory. Brodeur has been stuck at 666 career wins since March 23. Even though he is going through the longest healthy win droughts of his career, the unflappable Brodeur managed to keep his sense of humor. When asked about the dearth of shots he faced, he said, “I was thinking about (Ilya) Bryzgalov falling asleep at a meeting. It could have well happened today.”
Back to the pop quiz. Along with Potvin, the only goalies drafted and developed by the Maple Leafs in their history to win a playoff game for the team are Mike Palmateer, Ken Wregget, Allan Bester, Jeff Reese and Damian Rhodes. Reimer won’t match Potvin’s mark of 25 career wins with the Leafs anytime soon, but at least he’s putting himself – and his team – in the conversation.
THE NEXT BRODEUR
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, whose son Jeremy was picked in the eighth round of the Ontario League draft by the Oshawa Generals, confirmed his son will attend the Generals prospect camp in two weeks. Jeremy has played at the Shattuck St-Mary’s prep school/hockey factory in Minnesota the past couple of seasons and will face a decision in which route to pursue if it turns out he’s good enough to impress the Generals at prospect camp.
“He doesn’t want to lose his eligibility for school yet,” Brodeur said. “They’ll look at him and he’ll feel the city and the atmosphere there and he’ll make a decision whether he’ll go back (for main camp) in August. If he does, he still has to make sure he makes the team. He’s really excited and it’s fun to see.”
The 16-year-old Brodeur had a 21-5-7 record with a 1.71 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage for the midget AAA team at Shattuck this season. And he has an in with the Generals already. Devils coach Peter DeBoer is a minority owner of the team.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.