How did a season that began with Mikhail Grabovski
as an afterthought, a season where J.S. Giguere would defer the crease occasionally to Jonas Gustavsson
, a season seemingly wasted by Christmas, go so off-track to such wondrous effect?
The Maple Leafs defeated the Minnesota Wild 3-0 Tuesday and the road win was built on the elements that would have been unfathomable when James Reimer
made his first start, fittingly, on New Year’s Day.
The 23-year-old Reimer, one of the most famous people to ever grow up in Morweena, Manitoba figured to be holding down a share of the Marlies goaltending picture about now. Instead, before friends and family came Reimer’s third shutout and a record bettered to 16-7-4.Three times a Wild puckholder breezed toward Reimer as unfettered as the Mississippi that runs a block or so away from the Xcel Centre. Twice that player was veteran John Madden. All three times…no dice.
“He’s a good player,” Reimer said of Madden. “He has won a lot of Cups. He made a couple of good moves, I was lucky enough to read them and get a piece of them.”
” We gave up three breakaways and Reims made the saves,” said coach Ron Wilson. “Other than those couple of mistakes, we played really well. We were tight defensively. All 18 skaters did the job defensively.”
That was it. Despite an advantage in shots on goal, the Wild were never really able to challenge Reimer who drew the puck like a magnet draws metal shavings. You had the feeling the Leafs could have handed them another three breakaways with the same effect.Joffrey Lupul
scored the only goal the Leafs would need in the first. In the second, Clarke MacArthur
wove into the Minnesota end and dropped to Grabovski who fired his 28th goal past Niklas Backstrom. In the third, Grabovski found Carl Gunnarsson
who lifted his fourth goal past the Minnesota goalie.
Wilson had a point. The Leafs defended tenaciously, or as tenaciously as you can defend while surrendering three breakaways and maybe that’s the fact most at play. Is it litter if you can’t see it? Are they mistakes if the other team doesn’t score. The Leafs were outshot 29-17.
Turns out it doesn’t matter.
The Leafs remain five points behind Buffalo in the race for eighth place. The Carolina Hurricanes won as well intensifying the importance of Thursday’s game in Denver and a showdown in Detroit with the Red Wings on Saturday.
And so for one more night, the Leafs bear no similarity to the club that limped through so much of the year. But another night without a gain in the standings raises the demands for the next. If the Leafs are to do advance, they may need to run the table in their eight remaining dates.
Of course, that’s impossible. But then, lately the impossible seems to come every second night.