Game 42: When Sharks are attacked by a kid named Reimer
Before tonight's glorious triumph, the Leafs last win in San Jose took place on March 26, 1997. That same month, James Reimer turned 9-years-old.
This was blatant larceny. It was highway robbery inside a Shark Tank. And as grand theft goes, it was also a thing of beauty.
All night, the kid smothered the puck as if he was trying to kill it. He was square to every shot. He controlled rebounds the way a strict nanny controls sugary treats. He directed his teammates with the calm-and-order influence of a traffic cop in a school zone. His movements were spare, sometimes impossible to detect, as if he was actually a state-of-the-art cyborg operating in power-save mode.
It's weird. This kid is freaking me out. He is freaking me the hell out. After only five starts – which now include 4 wins, a .947 save percentage and 1.92 goals against average – Reimer has completely transformed my Leafs-watching experience.
I'm not muttering apocalyptic rants at the cats when the Leafs trail after two periods, as they did tonight. I'm not wincing and watching with one hand pressed over one eye when the other team hems the Leafs into the defensive zone, as occurred several times tonight. I'm not holding my breath when the bad guys toss the puck around on the power play, as San Jose did four times tonight, including once with a two-man advantage.
In short: I no longer expect bad things to happen. But more important, neither do the Leafs.
You want a summary of tonight's game? Here goes: The Leafs trailed 1-0 after 40 minutes. They got into some penalty trouble in the second, thanks mostly to officiating that might charitably be described as "bizarre." They were outshot 42-26 and out-chanced 2-1.
You could just feel it.
San Jose, you see, could not do what other teams have managed to do this season before we entered the Reimer Era: They could not create a panic. They could not smell Leaf blood because Leaf blood was diluted by the ice water in Reimer's veins and masked by the smoke billowing from the fire inside his belly.
In other words, Game 42 was the exact opposite of so many games we have witnessed this season. Instead of losing but deserving to win, the Leafs won but maybe deserved to lose. (It feels so much better this way, doesn't it?)
Instead of smashing their sticks and staring up at the rafters with gnawing frustration after the opposition goalie contorts through endless heroics, the Leafs smirked and remained cool as Reimer harpooned the Sharks, eventually giving his team a chance to start a feeding frenzy of their own.
In the third, the Leafs scored four times on six shots, including a spectacular move by Phil Kessel; a power play backhand for King MacArthur; a nifty deflection by Carl Gunnarsson; and, finally, an-empty-net-breakaway-insurance-marker for the King again.
Throw up your arms to celebrate. This improbable uprising continues. Consider this your warning in advance of Thursday, Phoenix.
These magnificent Leaf bastards now have four wins in a row. Over the past 10 games, they are playing .600. Since the new year started, they are mending our mangled expectations.
They are making this campaign seem less of a disaster and more of a work-in-progress, one that's increasingly steeped in long-term hope.
If there was a downside to tonight's tremendous win, it was the absolutely horrific thought that James Reimer may soon be returned to the minors. I mean, what? WHAT? No. NO! This simply can't happen.
It would be like winning 100 million bucks and then voluntarily living like a hobo. It would be like buying a fancy car with airbags and ABS and then driving around without your seatbelt.
The Leafs have run into many hot goalies this season. Now they have a hot goalie and they're thinking about letting him run away?
Insanity. Pure insanity.
So at this ungodly hour, once again, let me issue a plea, once again, to the powers that be: Do not deprive us of Reimer. Do not take him away from us, not now, not after what we've already endured.
Do not force us to hatch kidnap plots that involve cube vans, duct-tape, abandoned warehouses and Jiggy or Goose. Do not make us form a torch-bearing mob and burn the ACC to the ground in protest.
Do not make us expect bad things to happen again.
This season has suddenly turned into a thrilling ride thanks to a kid from Winnipeg. Don't make it stop. Don't bring a hasty and profoundly unwise end to the Reimer Era just as it's beginning.
GAME PHOTOS: CHAD ZIEMENDORF/REUTERS