With Jonathan Bernier Out, James Reimer Has a Chance to Save the Maple Leafs

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterApril 4, 2014

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 23: James Reimer #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks up after giving up a goal against the New Jersey Devils during the second period at the Prudential Center on March 23, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
Adam Hunger/Getty Images

James Reimer has a chance to be a hero. The goaltender, maligned, slighted and disrespected throughout the 2013-14 season, now has a chance to rescue the Toronto Maple Leafs from the clutches of a historic collapse and thrust them into the playoffs.

Starting goaltender Jonathan Bernier suffered an injury Thursday night that will sideline him for the remainder of the regular season, which pushes Reimer into action for Toronto's final four regular-season games.

Randy Carlyle: Jonathan Bernier has an MCL strain and will be out three weeks. #TMLtalk #Leafs

— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 4, 2014

Things are bleak in Toronto even after the Maple Leafs beat the Boston Bruins 4-3 in overtime Thursday.

The Leafs are one point back of the final wild-card spot that is occupied by the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have two games in hand. The Leafs play three of their final four games against teams with zero chance of reaching the postseason (Winnipeg, Florida, Ottawa), with one tough road matchup with Tampa Bay.

If the Leafs win out, they will finish with 92 points; the Jackets would need seven points in there final six games to hold off Toronto. 

The odds are long for the Leafs, but Reimer has a chance to channel his inner Tyrion Lannister and save the Maple Leafs from almost certain destruction.

When Westeros was under attack by the armies of Stannis Baratheon and his magical Red Lady's witchcraft, King Tywin and his great warrior son Jaime Lannister were not there to defend King's Landing. That forced Tyrion into action, although he was considered somewhat of a joke by his family and was content to recede into the shadows.

Alas, when the chips were down, Tyrion surprised everyone. He devised a strategy to defeat Stannis, and the city was saved from certain doom.

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 12: Jonathan Bernier #45 of the Toronto Maple Leafs replaces James Reimer #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs after Reimer allowed 3 goal in the first period against the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center on December 12, 2013 in S
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Reimer and Tyrion have some differences in their personality and stature, but this is Reimer's chance to reach deep and find the wildfire that can turn the tide.

(In this convoluted metaphor involving Game of Thrones, Toronto is Westeros, King Tywin is Bernier and Jamie Lannister represents the absence of logic and strategy in anything the Maple Leafs do on or off the ice as an organization.)

But seriously, these games are winnable for the Maple Leafs, especially if they have a motivated Reimer out to stick it to his critics who (incorrectly) blamed him for the team's free fall the past few weeks while Bernier was out with a groin injury. This is still the same goaltender who had a save percentage above .930 for a lengthy part of this season and was half a period away from giving the Leafs a postseason series victory in 2013 before...well...you know what happened.

More importantly than the Leafs having a goaltender who is capable of standing on his head for four games, the team of late hasn't been the possession train wreck it's been all season.

Over their past five games against pretty good competition, the Leafs have a Corsi percentage of 50.5. That's not exactly a number that will strike fear into the hearts of anyone, but it's an improvement over what the Leafs have been doing for most of the season. If you set the bar low enough, anything that's slightly above it can be considered a positive.

It's a four-game situation in which Reimer can't lose. Well, he can lose...four times, actually...but it'll be tough to blame him if the Leafs can't close the gap on a playoff spot over the final week of the season. It would take a real heartless, uninformed person to saddle the blame for this season on the play of a backup goaltender, but enough about Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle.

However, if Reimer can pull this off, if he can win four straight and get the Leafs into the playoffs, he'll be hailed as a hero in his city, much like Tyrion was after he...

...wait, after Tyrion saved the city, he was given zero credit for it. The credit was given to Tywin when he arrived after the battle was over. Tyrion was still considered an outcast and was not hailed as a hero.

Actually, others taking credit is probably exactly what Reimer should expect even if he saves the Maple Leafs' season.


Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.


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