James Reimer will finally get to fulfill a childhood dream.
Reimer put in a monstrous effort with 49 saves and the Toronto Maple Leafs earned their first playoff berth since 2004 with a 4-1 victry over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.
”It’s unbelievable,” the goalie said with a huge grin. ”That’s the hockey where you want to play always as a kid growing up. It’s playoff hockey. Especially for our city, it’s been a little while so I know they’re anxious for (the playoffs), they’re ready for (the playoffs.)
”It’s good to finally clinch.”
James van Riemsdyk scored twice, and Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul also had goals for the Maple Leafs, who needed to earn a point and get a little help from the New York Islanders to make the playoffs.
New York briefly pulled into a tie with Toronto for fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a 5-4 shootout win over Winnipeg before the Leafs (55) moved back ahead by two points.
”This is huge,” said Reimer. ”It’s been a long time coming now and this is a market and a group of fans that definitely deserves to have this team in the playoffs and competing for a (Stanley) Cup.”
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said making the playoffs was a goal for this group from the start of the season.
”We’re trying to earn respect back for our group and that to me is the most important thing,” said Carlyle. ”For us to qualify now is a feather in the players’ cap for all the work that they’ve put in.”
Jakob Silfverberg scored and Craig Anderson stopped 18 shots for the Senators, who trail the Islanders by a point. Ottawa will need to earn at least three points in its last four games to clinch a playoff spot.
Reimer, who has been stellar in recent weeks, continued to dominate the Senators, improving his overall record against Ottawa to 8-1-1 and a perfect 6-0 at Scotiabank Place. He’ll be among the Leafs’ players making their playoff debuts.
”Fifty shots, 27 blocked, 13 missed the net so we had the puck a lot of the night and had good opportunity to shoot it, lots of opportunity obviously to shoot it, but obviously Reimer must be the Vezina Trophy winner and Hart Trophy winner,” said Senators coach Paul MacLean. ”He gets our vote because every time we play him he stops every puck we get there.”
There’s no denying Reimer enjoys playing in Ottawa.
”I have no idea why we’re getting good results here,” said Reimer. ”It’s fun and it’s a great atmosphere. I’ve said it a million times a lot of passionate fans on both sides of the fence here and it just makes for a great game.”
With Ottawa dominating on the shot count but trailing 2-1, Kadri gave the Maple Leafs a two-goal lead with a shot at 14:11 of the third that Anderson should have stopped.
Kadri had not scored since the last time these two teams played on March 30 and admitted to feeling some relief to finally finding the back of the net.
”It was a goal that we definitely needed,” said Kadri. ”I felt like the weight of my shoulders was taken off, but just because it was such a big goal in the hockey game that meant even more than my drought.”
Lupul then put the game away for good with a breakaway goal that Anderson got a piece of with less than two minutes to go.
After a scoreless first period, the Leafs led 2-1 heading into the third thanks to a pair of goals by van Riemsdyk. The big left-winger opened the scoring at 8:22 with a deflection on a Cody Franson point shot before doubling the Toronto lead on the power play by shoveling home a rebound at 12:24.
After some great pressure in the Toronto end late in the second, the Senators were rewarded when Silfverberg’s shot from just inside the blue-line beat Reimer with 42.7 seconds remaining in the period.
The Senators outshot the Leafs 17-5 in the first, but many of those came from the outside.
”When you have 50 shots and one goal you can go back and look at it and maybe there’s too many shots from the perimeter and not getting to the good second chances and the rebounds,” said Ottawa’s Zack Smith. ”Reimer did play well and you can’t take that away from him, but I like to think we have enough skill guys and enough goal scorers that if you put up 50 shots there’s going to be more than one goal.”
The Maple Leafs looked to have taken a 1-0 lead midway through the period, but a potential goal was called back due to incidental contact by Toronto’s Leo Komarov on Anderson.
Minutes later, Erik Condra had two great chances on Reimer but put the puck directly into the Toronto goalie’s pads.
Notes: With his assist on the Maple Leafs’ second goal, Kessel now has six goals and eight assists over his last eight games. … Saturday was the fifth and final meeting of the regular season between the two teams. Toronto won the season series 4-1. … C Jim O’Brien, C Peter Regin, LW Guillaume Latendresse, D Mike Lundin and D Andre Benoit were healthy scratches for the Senators. Ottawa is without C Jason Spezza (upper-body injury, day-to-day), C Mike Hoffman (collarbone, indefinitely) and D Erik Karlsson (Achilles, indefinite). … C Joe Colborne, RW Matt Frattin, LW Ryan Hamilton, D Jake Gardiner and D Michael Kostka were healthy scratches for Toronto.