Bruins: James Reimer

Gretzky: These Maple Leafs are legit

May, 11, 2013
TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are playing with house money.

There’s no harder team to finish off than a club that wasn’t picked by anyone to win a series. It has nothing to lose.

In failing to finish the Leafs off in Game 5 on Friday night, the Boston Bruins also further fueled the growing belief that is growing in the Toronto dressing room.

The win while facing elimination Friday night made a statement to many, including The Great One.

"They’re up against a really good opponent, a team that’s just two years removed from winning the Cup, but any time you can win a Game 5 in that situation against a team of that caliber, obviously you’ve got character and it builds even more character," Wayne Gretzky told over the phone Saturday. "They’re legit. They’re playing on high emotion right now."

Gretzky said that belief begins with Leafs coach Randy Carlyle and what he’s selling to his young team.

"It’s about believing in your system. The system starts with the head coach," Gretzky said. "He’s got tremendous credibility after winning a Stanley Cup himself [2007 in Anaheim]. It’s not a question of players saying, 'Are we sure he knows what he’s doing?' Because they’re absolutely positive he knows what he’s doing. The credibility starts right there with the coach."

There’s certainly no denying the job Carlyle and his staff have done this season in Toronto. They’ve taken a young club and given it structure. When the team has struggled, it has reverted back to that base, which in my opinion has helped limit prolonged slumps.

But to pull that off, the players have to buy what the coach is selling.

"If you’re not honest and hardworking and forthright and demanding in some ways, how can we expect our players to follow the lead?" Carlyle said Saturday. "If you’re not going to be consistent with it, why should they be consistent with it. They’re professionals, they want to win. ... So we have to convince them that the way we’re doing things, and the way our coaching staff and our management perceives it, is the right way to win."

Toronto’s two victories in Boston in the series will have an impact on this group far beyond the here and now.

After getting destroyed in Game 1, plus having two off days to get asked about it, the Leafs headed into Game 2 with nobody outside their dressing room walls believing they had any clue as to how to compete with the Bruins in a playoff series.

They won.

Coming off a heart-breaking, 4-3 overtime loss in Game 4, the universal sense was that the Leafs had taken their best swing, and, down 3-1, that they would be heading to Boston to have their season end in Game 5.

They won.

Just 11 days after not knowing anything about playoff hockey, the young Maple Leafs have grown in their understanding.

"Being able to go into Boston and getting those big wins has been a huge confidence booster," said young forward Nazem Kadri. "Our backs were against the wall in those games. We needed to win them, and we stepped up and came through. Boston’s been around the block and back, so I’m assuming they’ll be coming out a lot harder tomorrow night and ready to work. We can’t give them an opportunity to gain that confidence back on us."

A big reason for the win Friday night was goalie James Reimer, who bounced back from a so-so performance in Game 4 with a 43-save performance in Game 5.

Overall, Reimer has been outplayed by Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask. But Reimer delivered a gem Friday night, continuing what has been a statement season for a guy most believed was the weakest link on this team before the season.

"There was so much talk throughout the hockey world wondering if their goaltending was strong enough to get through the season and get into the playoffs," Gretzky said. "I think their goaltender has answered that question extremely well. It’s a hard city for anyone to play in, but it’s really tough for a goaltender. I think Reimer has been tremendous. When the players have a strong belief in their goaltender, that goes a long way. I know, as good as we were in 1993 [with the Kings], we really believed in Kelly Hrudey. He was going to make the big save whether it was 2-2 or 4-4; he wasn’t going to let the next goal in. I feel like there’s a real sense in that locker room now in Toronto."

Win or lose, Reimer is unflappable. He probably should have had David Krejci's shot in overtime Wednesday night on the 2-on-1 break, and he knows that. So his response Friday night tells you about his character.

"It feels good to play well," Reimer said Saturday. "It was tough to lose Game 4, but you can’t be too low. And after a game like last night, you can’t be too high. Things happen. I had a couple of lucky breaks yesterday and not so much the game before that. All you can really do is play as well as you can and see where it goes from there."

Odds are, the veteran Bruins will prevail. They’re a composed team. They’ve been here before. Coach Claude Julien will have these guys ready Sunday night.

But the shot at an upset is there, nonetheless.

"The first round of the playoffs, historically, has been the wildest in a lot of ways," Carlyle said. "A lot of energy, a lot of teams vying for respect, vying for a template with their young group, some veteran teams take a bit more time to get their team game in order, there’s more opportunity for upsets. ...

"We’re in a situation where we’re trying to create an identity for our organization and for our hockey club."

That identity has been enriched in the past 11 days.

"You know, they’re still young and they’re still learning," Gretzky said. "This is how you learn, by getting a chance to play in big games like this. Game 5 in Boston was probably one of the biggest games those kids have played in for a long time. From that point of view, it’s just going to help their maturity and their growth a lot quicker. That game has done a lot, I’m sure, to give that team confidence and belief they’re good enough to win Game 6 and maybe good enough to win Game 7. Problem is, they’re facing a really strong opponent with a tremendous coach themselves. That’s where it gets difficult. But it’s been really good hockey."

A win Sunday night by the Leafs and both teams would have a quick turnaround with Game 7 in Boston on Monday night.

It’s not ideal. But no one in Toronto would complain.

"That would be great, wouldn’t it?" Leafs winger Clarke MacArthur said, smiling. "That’s the plan."

Game 5 Reaction: Leafs 2, Bruins 1

May, 10, 2013

BOSTON -- James Reimer made 43 saves and the Maple Leafs staved off elimination by beating the Bruins 2-1 in Game 5 of this Eastern Conference quarterfinals series.

As expected, the Maple Leafs showed up with the determination of a team facing elimination. But the Bruins appeared to be already looking ahead to the second round, and they paid for it. They will give it another try in Game 6 in Toronto on Sunday night. If they fail to clinch again, then Game 7 will be back in Boston on Monday night.

After a scoreless first period, the Leafs took a 1-0 lead on a short-handed goal by Tyler Bozak 11:27 into the second period. Clarke MacArthur scored what proved to be the game winner 1:58 into the final frame, putting the Leafs ahead 2-0.

Zdeno Chara was able to beat Reimer 11:12 into the third period, but the Toronto goalie preserved the 2-1 lead and helped his team to live another day.

Chara returning to Norris form: Zdeno Chara wasn't nominated for the Norris Trophy, but in his past two games, Chara's play certainly has been Norris-worthy. After a four-assist night in Game 4, Chara continued to play a solid two-way game and once again he was creating offense. His third-period goal was beautiful, but his play throughout the game was even more impressive. He was stellar in the defensive zone and was pinching and driving to the net when the time was right. If he continues to lead with his play that can only mean good things for the Bruins.

Can't blame Rask: Until Game 5, there had been two players the Bruins could depend on: David Krejci and Tuukka Rask. While neither was to blame for this loss, Krejci was held pointless. Rask did his job once again, but as they did so many times in the regular season, the Bruins wasted a great performance by their goalie. If not for Rask, the Bruins would have been booking their flights to Toronto in the first intermission. The Leafs peppered the Bruins and Rask was apparently the only one ready for the desperation of a team facing elimination.

Bad start for Bruins: The Bruins did not come into this game ready to match the Leafs' intensity. Given the experiences the core of this team has been through in the past -- specifically the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals when they blew a 3-0 series lead -- one would think the Bruins wouldn't allow themselves to feel any comfort in a 3-1 series lead. But the Bruins looked too content in the first period, almost daring Toronto to take advantage. Luckily for the Bruins, the Leafs couldn't score in the first period despite outshooting the Bruins 19-8, and Toronto led only 1-0 after two periods of play.

Bartkowski in for Redden: With defenseman Wade Redden out of the lineup, Bruins coach Claude Julien elected to go with recent call-up Matt Bartkowski instead of rookie Dougie Hamilton, who has played in one game this series. Here's what the Bruins lineup looked like to start the game:

Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Tyler Seguin
Rich Peverley-Chris Kelly-Jaromir Jagr
Daniel Paille-Gregory Campbell-Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara-Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ference-Johnny Boychuk
Matt Bartkowski-Adam McQuaid

Tuukka Rask
Anton Khudobin

BOSTON -- For the past two days, the Boston Bruins insisted their late-season funk was in the rearview mirror. There would be no more blown leads in the third period and no more lackluster starts. The skilled and physical Bruins would return.

Well, the Bruins kept their promises as they overcame an early Toronto Maple Leafs power-play goal and scored the next four goals, dominating the Leafs 4-1 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

David Krejci had a goal and two assists, Wade Redden had a goal and an assist and Nathan Horton and Johnny Boychuk both lit the lamp for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask looked solid between the pipes, making 19 saves, with James van Riemsdyk’s power-play goal in the opening period the only shot that beat him.

For the Leafs, James Reimer was under siege all night as the Bruins poured 40 shots on him.

Lucic-Krejci-Horton line clicks again: One of the big question marks heading into this series was whether Milan Lucic, Krejci and Horton could find their magic again. If Game 1 is any indication, the band is back together and the magic is there. In addition to Krejci’s three-point performance and Horton lighting the lamp, Lucic had two helpers and continued to look more like the Lucic who used a combination of grit, size and skating to earn two straight seasons of 20-plus goals. The chemistry was back as Horton and Lucic got to open spaces to benefit from Krejci’s playmaking skills, and Krejci looked a lot like the player who was a candidate for the 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Bruins defense provides offensive boost: Prior to Game 1, coach Claude Julien lauded Redden for his recent play and puck-moving skills. Redden continued to impress with his goal and an assist, but the Bruins' entire defense did a great job of moving the puck and creating offense in Game 1. In addition to Boychuk's goal, Bruins defensemen helped in peppering Reimer and controlling neutral zone play.

Power play looks better: While the Bruins’ power play (1-for-5) can certainly still be better, it did convert once and moved the puck a lot better. The passes were crisp, and there was less hesitation. If that continues, the scoring production will increase.

Suspension coming for Ference? Andrew Ference could very well be sitting out a game or more after elbowing Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski in the head in the first period. No penalty was called, but the replay clearly shows an elbow to the head.

Bruins have two goals called back: Things could have been even worse for the Leafs if not for two Bruins goals being called back. The referees and replay officials got it right in calling back a Tyler Seguin shot that clearly rang off the post 1:10 into the second period. But Patrice Bergeron’s no-goal was a bit questionable as the referees claimed the whistle was blown before Bergeron pushed it into the net. But even if the refs were wrong, the rule states if they intended to blow it and didn’t do it in time, then it’s still not a goal.

Bad blood boils at end: In addition to Ference’s questionable hit to the head of Grabovski, there was plenty of hard hitting throughout the game. As time wound down in the third period and it was clear the Bruins would win, the Leafs decided to let the Bruins know they were still there, taking plenty of extra hits after the whistle and then stirring things up at the final buzzer. The result was a Chris Kelly-Leo Komarov fight. It should be a physical Game 2.

Hamilton and Peverley sit: Not surprisingly, Julien kept Dougie Hamilton in the press box as a healthy scratch. The defenseman struggled in his last few games of the regular season, and Julien seems to have opted to take the learning-from-up-top route he took with Seguin as a rookie to start the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs. While Rich Peverley might have had an off season, one would think Julien would prefer playoff and Cup experience in the lineup instead of an inexperienced Kaspars Daugavins. But it was Daugavins playing with Kelly and Jaromir Jagr for Game 1.

Here’s what the rest of the lineup looked like:

Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand-Bergeron-Tyler Seguin
Daniel Paille-Gregory Campbell-Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara-Dennis Seidenberg
Redden-Adam McQuaid

Anton Khudobin