Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle challenged his club “to be more than ordinary’’ in Wednesday night’s Game 1 of this best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series against the Bruins.
Through the first 16 minutes, James Reimer seemed to live up to his coach’s expectations, submitting an extraordinary effort in net as his team clung to a 1-0 lead.
Reimer, who was making his playoff debut, looked like anything but a neophyte in stopping the first 10 shots he faced.
However, in the ensuing 44 minutes, Reimer looked very much like a playoff neophyte in a 4-1 loss before a delirious Garden crowd of 17,565. Reimer, who faced 40 shots overall, gave up two goals in each of the first and second periods.
“Yeah, he made some big stops,’’ Carlyle said. “And then even on the goals that were scored, if you slow them down when we get the opportunity to slow them down, we screened him.’’
Reimer, who entered the game with a 4-4-1 record and .917 save percentage against the Bruins, sensed there was something in the air as the Garden crackled with playoff electricity.
“Definitely,’’ said Reimer, when asked if he got a sense of the difference in playoff hockey vs. the regular season. “I don’t think I was surprised by anything, but I felt like I was well-prepared and ready to go. The crowd is more into it, so there’s a little more intensity, so you have to find a way to keep calm no matter which way the game is swinging.’’
Reimer’s composure was challenged in the final 3:40 of the first period when veteran defenseman Wade Redden snapped off a hard shot that slipped through Reimer’s tucked left arm, tying the game at 16:20.
“My arm still hurts from it,’’ said Reimer, who had a bag of ice taped to his left forearm after the game. “It felt like I got 95 percent of it, but that wasn’t enough. It’s frustrating to let that in. It’s a tough bounce, but that’s what happens sometimes, and you have to battle through it.’’
When Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf was sent off for slashing at 17:55, the Bruins took a 2-1 lead on Nathan Horton’s goal-mouth deflection of Redden’s blast from the right point at 19:48.
“I think with all butterfly goaltenders and today’s goaltenders, you’re first shot, if your in tight, you’re going to have to put pucks upstairs,’’ said Carlyle. “And certainly, your second opportunity is going to have to go upstairs. On any scrambles around [the net], you’ve got to go upstairs on goaltenders in the NHL nowadays.’’
That seemed to be the Bruins’ plan of attack against Reimer, who gave up two more goals in the second when David Krejci potted a juicy rebound at 10:25 in heavy traffic in front, and then teed one up for Johnny Boychuk at 15:44, who let rip of a blue-line blast that beat Reimer upstairs, glove side.
“We gave up too much,’’ said Phaneuf, the Leafs’ captain. “You can’t give up — I thought [Reimer] played really well, but you can’t give up that many shots. We’ve got to tighten things up. There are a lot of things we need to be better at, and we’re going to do that.’’
How does Reimer intend to turn the page after Game 1?
“Pretty easy,’’ he said. “Obviously, it’s not the way we wanted to play, but having said that, that’s maybe the best-case scenario because we know if we play up to our ability, we can bring a lot better game. If we were playing our best, and we were getting hammered, then we’d be in trouble.
“But we didn’t bring our best and we got beat and that’s the way it goes. That’s the way it should be. But we’ll come with a better game on Saturday and, hopefully, a better result.’’Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.