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Ramblings: Bad time to tick off your goalie

3/20/2014

Reimer soap opera continues

From the moment Game 7 of the opening round of the playoffs ended with Bruins center Patrice Bergeron's overtime winner eliminating the Toronto Maple Leafs, it's clear that the Leafs -- or at least those Leafs wearing suits -- have had little use for netminder James Reimer. Even though Reimer was a catalyst for the Leafs ending an ugly seven-year playoff absence last season, he was seen in some quarters as the scapegoat for the Leafs’ horrific collapse in Game 7 against Boston. Never mind that the Leafs never would have gotten close to a Game 7 without Reimer's play, which helped erase a 3-1 series deficit, or during the regular season, when he turned in a .924 save percentage. Still, the Leafs obtained Los Angeles Kings backup Jonathan Bernier in the offseason and their faith was well-placed, as Bernier has established himself as the No. 1 guy for a Leafs team looking for a second straight playoff appearance. But when Bernier went down with an injury a couple of weeks ago, Reimer once again became the man and immediately backstopped the Leafs to an impressive win over Los Angeles. But after a loss against Detroit on Tuesday, coach Randy Carlyle was lukewarm at best when asked to describe Reimer's play, saying Reimer was "just OK." “Just OK” is coachspeak for "I wish we’d had someone else in net." That was followed up by another lackluster performance by both Reimer and the Leafs' defense in a 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Toronto on Wednesday. Can you say crisis of confidence? The Leafs still hold down the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, but they are just four points ahead of ninth-place Washington and the Caps have a game in hand. The Leafs might not like Reimer, and the restricted free agent seems destined to be tending goal somewhere else next season, but they sure need him now.

Silver lining

We were pleased to see the International Olympic Committee agree that Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom would not be denied a silver medal in spite of testing positive for a banned substance -- an allergy medicine Backstrom said he's been taking for seven years -- in the days leading up to the gold-medal game between Sweden and Canada in Sochi last month. What would be nicer is if the IOC, which acknowledged that there was no indication Backstrom was trying to enhance his performance, came up with an explanation of how it took four days -- twice as long as normal -- for the test to come back and why it came to pass that the IOC drug-testing folks pulled Backstrom from warming up at the rink before the gold-medal game for a hearing that ultimately led to his missing the loss to Canada. Lots of blame to go around -- why on earth would Swedish doctors OK Backstrom to take the medication if they knew there was even a remote chance he might exceed acceptable levels for in-competition testing? -- but the IOC also shares culpability in marring what was otherwise a well-run hockey tournament in Sochi. If, as Swedish officials claimed at the time, the IOC was hoping for a positive test to make a point, to put fear into other athletes, then shame on the IOC. Regardless, shame on the IOC for failing to see the bigger picture, which is how their tardiness and intransigence surrounding the positive test altered the competitive balance in the Olympics' marquee moment. Would Backstrom's presence have changed the outcome of the game won 3-0 by Canada? Not likely. Canada was simply too good. But Backstrom was the Swedes' top center and should have been on the ice that Sunday in Sochi. Shame he wasn't, even if he is going to get a silver medal for his troubles.

Another Burke in the system

Had a chance to talk to Sean Burke, the longtime NHL netminder who has found a home in Phoenix as a goaltending coach, where he's credited with helping Ilya Bryzgalov become an elite netminder and reviving the career of Canadian Olympian Mike Smith, who has been dynamite for the last six weeks or so as the Coyotes try to sneak into the postseason. The conversation turned to Burke's son Brendan, who was drafted by the Coyotes with the 163rd overall pick in last June’s draft. Sometimes familial draft picks, especially those picks that come late in the draft, are done as a kind of favor. But Brendan Burke, a goaltender like his father, has shown an impressive aptitude for the game and has evolved into the top netminder for the Portland Winterhawks, one of the top major junior teams in North America. We talked to Winterhawks coach and GM Mike Johnston, who was an assistant/associate coach in Vancouver and then Los Angeles and who had Sean Burke at a couple of World Championship tournaments, and Johnston said he thinks there are more than a few similarities between father and son on and off the ice, both in terms of mannerisms and approach to the game. "It's remarkable how similar they are," he said. Brendan grew up playing minor hockey in the Phoenix area and paid his dues in Portland before becoming the starter this season. "This year he was our starter and he was our guy. And he knew it was his time to take over," Johnston said. A bout of mononucleosis set Brendan back a few weeks, but he returned to action last week for the final games of the regular season and is now poised to lead a powerful Portland team into the playoffs. Johnston, who coached Seth Jones, the fourth overall pick in June and the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, said there is something about growing up around pro sport that helps a young athlete cope. "I think, mentally, they're able to handle a lot of situations," Johnston said.

Classy move by the Sharks

And, finally, kudos to the San Jose Sharks for helping to produce a memorable moment for 18-year-old longtime fan Sam Tageson, who suffers from a congenital heart defect but who was offered a one-day "contract" by the Sharks. Tageson took part in the morning skate and then skated with the team through the team’s trademark shark head onto the ice before their game Tuesday against Florida. If you ever wonder what these moments mean, catch the video of Tageson breaking down on the bench as fans gave him a loud ovation. Powerful stuff.