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X-Factor: Leafs will rely on Reimer to anchor defense

by Dan Rosen /

The Toronto Maple Leafs can score goals in bunches. It's one of their best traits, arguably the main reason they were good enough to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004.

The Maple Leafs' issue is instead in the defensive zone, with coverage, reads and breakdowns that lead to shots against and, ultimately, quality chances against that make the play of goalie James Reimer all the more important.

Reimer will have to be the Maple Leafs' best defender if the team is going to advance to the second round. He'll probably have to be better than he was at any point during the regular season because his margin for error will be slimmer. Toronto can't expect to continue to score more than three goals every game at a time when defenses play tighter and scoring historically goes down.

Nobody is quite sure how Reimer will handle the pressure of having to be great, if it will become a burden because he has never been a part of the NHL's playoff environment. He hasn't played in any kind of playoff game since he was an ECHL goalie for the South Carolina Stingrays in 2009, but this spring he's the player who will either help make or completely break the chances of the Maple Leafs.

"This is when you make a name for yourself, really," Toronto left wing Joffrey Lupul told "We're not going to ask Reims to steal a playoff game or a series, but he has stolen us games before this year. We played a game against New Jersey when we were brutal and he got us two points. If you're asking, 'Is he capable of it?' I would say for sure he is."

Reimer trusts his talent and fundamentals. He sees the difference in his game now that he's healthy (he had a concussion last season and a knee injury earlier this season) and is playing more square to the puck.

The Maple Leafs have reason to believe Reimer can make good things happen this spring because he's already gracefully handled his fair share of adversity.

Reimer has gone from future star in 2011, to concussed afterthought in 2012, to maybe good enough to turn around Toronto's fortunes earlier this season, to potentially replaceable at the NHL Trade Deadline, to one of the main reasons the Maple Leafs ended the NHL's longest playoff drought.

"We've got a lot of confidence in Reims and I think his mental game … is very strong," Lupul said. "If something happens in the playoffs where things aren't going right for him, he has the ability to clear his mind and play better the next game."

The next game in the playoffs is always exponentially more important than the previous one, so Reimer's skillset and mental makeup could mean he's perfectly suited for this time of year.

For now, the jury is out on the Maple Leafs' X-factor.

"What kid who's a goalie doesn't want this spot in Toronto?" Reimer said. "I'm blessed to be here and want to make the most of it."


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