By HOWARD BERGER
TAMPA (Mar. 16) – First off: good call by Randy Carlyle to come right back with James Reimer after a tough night in Sunrise on Tuesday.
It’s been awhile since any person in the Maple Leafs organization has shown outward confidence in the beleaguered goalie and it paid off nicely, as Reimer came within 26 seconds of a shut-out in Toronto’s 3-1 victory over the Lightning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Neither club is going anywhere near the playoffs this spring, so why not work on situations that may come in handy next season – such as restoring a bit of self-assurance in Optimus Reim. It was rather pleasant to see a good guy feeling happy in the dressing room for the first time in recent memory.
JAMES REIMER SMILES WHILE TALKING TO REPORTERS IN THE DRESSING ROOM AT TAMPA BAY TIMES FORUM AFTER THURSDAY NIGHT’S VICTORY – A VISION LEAF FANS WERE ACCUSTOMED TO A YEAR AGO AT THIS TIME.
Leafs won for only the third time in the past 18 games; it was their second road win since Feb. 4, and Reimer’s first conquest anywhere since the 4-3 overtime win at Edmonton on Feb. 15. Tampa Bay had annihilated Boston in the opening minutes here on Tuesday, grabbing a 3-0 lead just 4:31 into the game en route to a 6-1 triumph in which Steven Stamkos scored his league-leading 50th goal of the season. Whether hosting the team struggling most in the NHL just 48 hours later engendered a let-down in the Lightning – or whether Toronto simply has Tampa Bay’s number this year – is a matter of debate.
Leafs waltzed to their easiest victory of the season back on Nov. 22, hammering T-Bay 7-1 here on the Gulf Coast of Florida. It was 7-3 for Toronto at the Air Canada Centre on Jan. 3. The Leafs and Lightning square off in Toronto’s final home game, Apr. 5.
A contributing element to Thursday night’s victory was Dion Phaneuf’s mood – foul during most of the game, while looking to pester Stamkos at every turn. It led to the Lightning star jumping in against the Leafs captain late in the match, after Phaneuf had worked over Martin St. Louis near the Toronto bench. It was clearly Carlyle’s game-plan to have his team annoy Tampa’s elite players and the strategy worked to perfection.
Take a breath, Leafs Nation… sip your warm coffee this morning, and enjoy my photos from the club’s second victory in the past 13 games:
IT WAS A WARM, STICKY DAY HERE IN TAMPA, BUT RATHER PLEASANT AS I WALKED FROM MY HOTEL TO THE ARENA (ABOVE AND BELOW) JUST MORE THAN AN HOUR BEFORE THE GAME.
IT’S ALWAYS NEAT TO HAVE A PRE-GAME DINNER WITH GREAT HOCKEY PEOPLE (ABOVE): LEFT TO RIGHT, JIM DEVELLANO, DANNY BELISLE AND SCOTTY BOWMAN. DEVELLANO, OF COURSE, IS A HALL-OF-FAMER AND LONG-TIME EXECUTIVE WITH THE DETROIT RED WINGS; BELISLE SCOUTED FOR THE WINGS AND COACHED THE WASHINGTON CAPITALS IN 1978-79… AND I THINK YOU KNOW BOWMAN.
ZAMBONI FINISHES PRE-GAME SURFACING OF ICE (ABOVE) MINUTES BEFORE THE NATIONAL ANTHEMS ARE PLAYED ON THE GIANT, NEW ORGAN AT THE ARENA HERE.
REFEREE GHISLAIN HEBERT DROPS PUCK (ABOVE) BETWEEN TYLER BOZAK AND ADAM HALL.
LEAFS TOOK CHARGE FROM THE OUTSET AND OPENED THE SCORING 1:09 INTO THE GAME WHEN JOHN-MICHAEL LILES BEAT DUSTIN TOKARSKI (ABOVE-LEFT) FROM THE SLOT, DRAWING HIS TEAMMATES IN CELEBRATION. LILES IS GREETED AT THE BENCH (BELOW) SECONDS AFTER THE GOAL.
BOZAK, WHO PLAYED A STRONG GAME, CLEANLY BEATS STAMKOS ON A DRAW (ABOVE).
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP-LEFT: REIMER MAKES A HUGE SAVE OFF BRETT CONNOLLY MIDWAY THROUGH THE FIRST PERIOD TO KEEP HIS TEAM IN FRONT; STAMKOS AND PHANEUF HAVE THEIR FIRST OF MANY ENCOUNTERS ON THE NIGHT; FORMER LEAF KEITH AULIE (3) WATCHES VIDEO-BOARD FROM THE BENCH AND THEN TAKES TO THE ICE FOR HIS NEXT SHIFT.
STAMKOS GLANCES UP FROM BENCH AT THE VIDEO-BOARD COMMEMORATING HIS MILESTONE TALLY ON TUESDAY NIGHT IN THE LOP-SIDED WIN OVER BOSTON.
THROUGH THE DOOR OF THEIR PRIVATE BOOTH, LEAFS GM BRIAN BURKE (ABOVE-LEFT) AND ASSISTANT DAVE POULIN WATCH ACTION LATE IN THE OPENING PERIOD.
A PHOTOGRAPHER’S STROBE-LIGHT IN THE ARENA RAFTERS ILLUMINATES AT THE EXACT SECOND I SNAP THE ABOVE PICTURE OF A WILD SCRAMBLE IN FRONT OF TOKARSKI. MOMENTS LATER (BELOW) MATT LOMBARDI DROPPED IN ON THE TAMPA GOALIE.
REIMER MADE ANOTHER GREAT SAVE EARLY IN THE SECOND PERIOD (ABOVE) – THIS TIME OFF STAMKOS – AND HE SMOTHERED A SHOT SECONDS LATER (BELOW) WHILE BEING OFFERED A HELPING HAND BY DEFENSEMAN CARL GUNNARSSON.
VETERAN DWAYNE ROLOSON REPLACED TOKARSKI IN THE LIGHTNING GOAL (ABOVE) AFTER JAKE GARDINER SCORED TO MAKE IT 3-0 FOR THE LEAFS AT 12:28 OF THE MIDDLE FRAME.
WITH THE GAME SLIPPING AWAY, STAMKOS AND MARTIN ST. LOUIS CHATTED BEFORE A SECOND-PERIOD FACE-OFF (ABOVE), WHICH THE 50-GOAL MAN TOOK AGAINST MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI (BELOW) – LINESMAN SHANE HEYER DOING THE HONORS.
LEAFS DEFENSEMAN CODY FRANSON (4) FINDS SOMETHING HUMOROUS (ABOVE) AFTER A PILE-UP NEAR THE VISITORS’ GOAL.
PHIL KESSEL COMES CLOSE (ABOVE-LEFT) WHILE PHANEUF HAS SOME WORDS FOR MAMMOTH LIGHTNING DEFENSEMAN VICTOR HEDMAN.
LEAFS WENT TO THEIR DRESSING ROOM FIRMLY IN CONTROL OF THE MATCH AFTER 40 MINUTES (ABOVE) AND THE GIANT, NEW ORGAN AT TAMPA BAY TIMES FORUM (BELOW) ENTERTAINED FANS DURING THE INTERMISSION.
CLOCKWISE ABOVE: BOZAK STANDS BENEATH A FLOOD-LIGHT SECONDS BEFORE FACING OFF TO BEGIN THIRD PERIOD AGAINST HALL; HE IS THEN THWARTED BY ROLOSON ON A GOOD SCORING CHANCE. STAMKOS AWAITS A FACE-OFF IN THE NEUTRAL ZONE AND LATER RENEWS ACQUIANTANCES WITH PHANEUF.
IT WAS A BUSY FINAL FRAME FOR ROLI THE GOALIE, AS EVIDENCED ABOVE.
STAMKOS FINALLY HAD ENOUGH OF PHANEUF AND JUMPED HIM (ABOVE) WITH 1:22 LEFT IN THE GAME IN FRONT OF THE LEAFS BENCH AFTER THE TORONTO CAPTAIN MESSED WITH ST. LOUIS. PHANEUF HAD A A FEW PARTING WORDS WHILE HEADING TO THE DRESSING ROOM (BELOW) AFTER HIS MOST EFFECTIVE PERFORMANCE IN AWHILE.
LEAF FANS WERE IN A LEISURELY MOOD ON THURSDAY.
THE LIGHTNING KEPT COMING AT REIMER – RYAN MALONE AND TEAMMATES TRYING TO BREAK THE GOOSE-EGG (ABOVE), WHICH FINALLY HAPPENED WITH 26 SECONDS TO PLAY (BELOW), WHEN ST. LOUIS SCORED FROM THE SLOT IN HIS 850th NHL GAME.
GIVEN ALL OF HIS RECENT PROBLEMS, REIMER SEEMED TO BE COOL ABOUT LOSING WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN HIS THIRD SHUT-OUT OF THE SEASON – LINESMAN JEAN MORIN (ABOVE) COLLECTING THE PUCK FROM THE VISITORS’ GOAL.
AFTER RECORDING HIS FIRST WIN IN EXACTLY ONE MONTH, REIMER IS GREETED (ABOVE) BY FELLOW NETMINDER JONAS GUSTAVSSON AND A SMILING KESSEL.
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN AWHILE, REIMER ENJOYED HIS POST-GAME SESSION WITH REPORTERS, WHILE LEAF BAGS WERE PACKED FOR THE OVERNIGHT TRIP TO OTTAWA.
ALWAYS NICE TO FEEL SAFE (ABOVE) WHILE WALKING BACK TO THE HOTEL AT NIGHT.
LEAFS HAD TO BE ENJOYING THEIR DOWNTOWN HAUNT HERE IN TAMPA (ABOVE AND BELOW), AS THEY WERE ABLE TO SWEEP BOTH GAMES FROM THE LIGHTNING THIS SEASON BY A COMBINED SCORE OF 10-2.
BUILDING LIGHTS REFLECTING OFF THE WATERS OF TAMPA BAY (ABOVE) IN MY CAMERA’S “FIREWORKS” MODE.
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