Top Shelf: Sympathy for James Reimer

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Updated: 3/25 3:08 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - James Reimer is an easy target for Toronto Maple Leafs fans.

Now it seems his wife is, too.

Reimer has been the focus of much vitriol of late since Toronto has fallen on hard times in its push for a second straight playoff appearance. Forced into a starting role after Jonathan Bernier injured his groin earlier in March, the Maple Leafs goaltender has lost each game during an ill-timed 0-5-0 stretch that could cost the Maple Leafs a postseason berth.

In a predictable turn of events given the times we live in, Reimer's wife, April, has been the subject of abuse on Twitter over the last several days. Several Canadian newspaper outlets, including The Toronto Star, recently reported on some of the attacks against her, leaving out the nastiest contributions due to offensive language.

One commenter suggested April should "seriously tell your husband to get psychiatric help because he has become an absolute joke." Another offered up this gem: "tell ur husband thanks for costing the leafs another game and maybe the playoffs. He's garbage. He must be cut."

Unlike the keyboard warriors hurling insults at the Reimers, April stayed classy with her response by tweeting, "Don't mistake my silence for ignorance, my calmness for acceptance or my kindness as weakness #goaliewifeproblems."

However, while April Reimer has the ability to deflate the situation by rightfully shaming her husband's immature detractors on Twitter, it's not quite so simple for Toronto's backup goalie.

The only real way for Reimer to silence his critics is to play better in net, but with Bernier possibly coming back for Tuesday's crucial home game against St. Louis, his chance to repair his reputation may already have passed.

Toronto enters Tuesday tied with Detroit for the last two playoff spots in the East and two teams -- Washington and Columbus -- are only one point behind. Of those four clubs, the Maple Leafs have the least number of games left (nine) to gain valuable points.

There is no question Bernier has been the reliable option in Toronto's net this season, going 25-16-7 with a 2.61 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. That's light years ahead of Reimer and his 11-13-1 mark, 3.39 GAA and .908 save percentage.

Still, it's not like Bernier, or practically every goalie in the NHL, hasn't had rough patches this season. It could easily have been him in net for the recent slide. In fact, Bernier started three games for Toronto during an 0-4-0 stretch in early January. If the Leafs wind up missing the playoffs by a slim margin, doesn't that lull count for almost as much as the recent one?

However, there is more to the narrative of Reimer as a guy who can't take the pressure. On top of his down 2013-14 season, Reimer also had the misfortune of being Toronto's goaltender when it blew a 4-1 third-period lead against Boston in Game 7 of last spring's monumental playoff collapse. Of course, the Bruins won that decisive opening-round game, 5-4, in overtime and then went on to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.

For Reimer, it seems his entire career is now summed up by that stinging postseason loss. It no longer matters the goaltender turned in what was easily his best campaign as an NHLer in 2013 and was a big reason Toronto ended its club-record playoff drought at seven seasons. Also forgotten are Reimer's stellar performances in Games 5 and 6 against the Bruins, when he combined to stop 72-of-74 shots to help Toronto erase a 3-1 series deficit and force that infamous seventh game.

So, it's become easy to lay all the blame for Toronto's recent problems at the feet of Reimer. He's already been labeled the choker while Bernier gets to play the role of savior.

After all, it was only after the playoff meltdown last spring that Bernier was brought in via a trade with Los Angeles. In a way, Bernier was acquired to fix the problem of Reimer, and he has done a good job of upgrading Toronto's net play. Then again, if Toronto manages to make the playoffs and Bernier stumbles in the first round, the fan's choice easily could find himself in a similar situation to the one Reimer is in now.

Of course, Bernier's imminent return to the lineup is a good thing for Toronto's playoff chances, but the club's skaters obviously will need to play better as well. The Maple Leafs provided Reimer with at least two goals in each game during the five-game slide, but never more than three. An offense ranked 11th in the NHL should be able to deliver a big goal outburst every now and again, especially when the goaltender is struggling.

To their credit, the Leafs players have been saying all throughout the slide that the skid is an indictment on the entire team's play and not just Reimer.

Too bad fans everywhere love a scapegoat and Reimer makes a perfect one.

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