DETROIT--The Red Wings absolutely peppered the Maple Leafs for much of the night.
They fired shot-after-shot at Leafs netminder James Reimer. But Reimer did what he appears to always do when the critics have counted him out. He shut the door.
Making his first start in 25 days, Reimer waited as he watched Jonathan Bernier find his groove.
A start against the Red Wings as his first back seemed quite daunting. Some rust was expected.
In the end, Reimer stole the show, making 41 saves to effectively steal two points from one of the hottest teams in the Atlantic Division.
“In games you haven’t played awhile, it’s all about trying to be mentally ahead of the game,” Reimer said. “That’s how I tried to play and I got a couple of lucky bounces and came up with a win.”
These kind of performances seem unusual, but they are quite common for Reimer. His best showings are derived from some feeling of adversity.
In 2011, it was about surprising many during his call up from the Marlies and performing well.
In 2013, it was stealing the show in game five of the Leafs-Bruins first playoff series, breathing new life into that series.
Tonight, it was about giving his teammates a lift, when they were in dire need of it.
On the heels of back-to-back games, the Leafs didn’t have the jump in their step to begin their night at Joe Louis Arena. It took until late in the first period before the Leafs managed to get a faceoff in Detroit’s zone. They were losing the battle for the puck, winning only four of 17 faceoffs through one period.
It didn’t matter.
It didn’t matter that Detroit fired a total of 74 shots toward the Leafs net, compared to just 33 from Toronto.
It didn’t matter that the Leafs failed to get the first goal of the game, or were trailing after 40 minutes.
It was a win against a top team. Something the Leafs have done on three consecutive nights.
Vancouver, Calgary, and Detroit had a combined record of 52-22-8 going into the games. No matter how you dissect it, those are wins against top teams in the NHL. Those games aren’t supposed to be easy. But they got the job done.
The Leafs got on the board at the 5:09 mark of the third period, when James van Riemsdyk found a hard-charging Phil Kessel at Detroit’s net.
Mike Santorelli scored the shootout winner, the Leafs first shootout win of the season.
In the end, it was Reimer who met the media with the Leafs military hoodie. The token given to the team’s player of the game.
But just as he always likes to do, he felt the biggest credit should go to his teammates.
“Tonight is also a night where I thought our team played great” Reimer said. “You might look at me weird if you look at the shots and stuff, but tonight is a night where they skated hard, they worked hard and I thought the team did a good job of clearing guys and this team did a good job of letting me see the puck.”
A couple of days off for the Leafs ahead and coach Randy Carlyle put it best, referencing he a comment he made about a past James Reimer performance in Detroit.
“He was just ok” Carlyle said to tonnes of laughs. “I was waiting a long time for that so you guys (the media) can package that some place.”
The Leafs goaltending depth is as ok as it’s ever been. It’s better than ok.