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Leafs' playoff hopes rest with Reimer after Bernier suffers injury

Friday, 04.04.2014 / 11:25 AM The Canadian Press

TORONTO - James Reimer considered the possibility he had played his final game with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The goaltender, who was the Leafs' starter not long ago, had lost five straight games before handing the over the reins when Jonathan Bernier returned from injury.

"Lots of things go through your mind and obviously that was one," Reimer said. "That's a plausible train of thought, but you just never know."

Reimer couldn't have possibly predicted what happened Thursday night, when Bernier fell awkwardly on his left leg and had to leave in the third period of the Leafs' game against the Boston Bruins.

Or could he?

"I actually told my wife before I left for the rink today that I had a feeling I was going in," the 26-year-old recalled. "I didn't know why."

Reimer didn't concern himself with why. All he worried about was winning, which he did by stopping 10 of the 11 shots he faced as Toronto won 4-3 in overtime.

Now it could be up to Reimer to keep the Leafs' playoff hopes alive not long after he was made a scapegoat for an eight-game losing streak that just about tanked their season.

Winger Nazem Kadri, whose overtime goal allowed Reimer to smile Thursday night, doesn't want the blame to fall on him again.

"It seems like when the team does not so well, he's the first guy that everyone hops all over, which really that shouldn't be the case," Kadri said. "At that point when we were losing, the team in front of him just couldn't bring it together and just couldn't figure things out, and obviously the goalie's left out there to dry by himself. We felt bad and now it's about time we have his back and step up to the plate."

Coach Randy Carlyle said Thursday night that Bernier was set to have an MRI. He would not reveal if the goalie had aggravated a groin injury that made him miss five games, calling it only "lower-body."

Amid the uncertainty, the Leafs were expected to recall goaltender Drew MacIntyre from the AHL. His agent confirmed via email that he was returning to Toronto from Utica, N.Y., where the Marlies are set to play Friday night.

MacIntyre has never started an NHL game, and even though he made one appearance in relief while Bernier was out last month, Reimer figures to be the man in goal down the stretch.

If nothing else, Reimer learned something about himself from a tough stretch that saw him give up 18 goals on 139 shots in five straight losses.

"Just to battle — battle adversity and stay positive," Reimer said. "Obviously it's been tough with everything that's been going on. Just stay positive. I mean, obviously faith has been a huge thing for me in keeping me grounded and keeping things in perspective. That's huge. You know, just how to get through things, how to take advantage of every day and not think too far ahead and stuff like that."

With that perspective, Reimer and the Leafs must first concern themselves with the Winnipeg Jets, who visit Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, before worrying about the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators.

Down the line, it's difficult to see Reimer remaining with the Leafs next season. Bernier was acquired last summer with the vision of him becoming the starting goaltender, and that's exactly what has happened.

Bernier has started 49 games to Reimer's 29, the past five of which came with Bernier injured and unable to play. Following a loss in Detroit on March 18, Carlyle called Reimer's play "OK, just OK."

That led to Reimer offering a different assessment of his performance and agent Ray Petkau to tweet about blaming goalies. Though Petkau then sought to clarify he didn't mean it specifically in regard to Carlyle and Reimer, a statement he sent via email the next day included a peek into what's to come.

"Obviously this has been a trying season for James but those are issues that we will deal with in the off season," Petkau wrote.

Reimer is set to be a restricted free agent in the off-season. The salary cap is expected to be around US$70 million, and the Leafs already have almost $50 million committed to 12 players.

That means it could be hard to find room for Reimer, who had been the Leafs' starter in previous years and could figure to fill that role with another NHL team.

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