Above the 49: Reimer deserves praise despite playoff collapse

From now until the start of next season, and quite possibly beyond, there will be a lot of Toronto Maple Leafs fans who will point the finger at goaltender James Reimer for the team's shocking ousting from the 2013 playoffs.

The criticism is expected, even if it's not warranted, given the importance of the goaltending position as the last line of defense.

In Reimer's situation, it's easy to label him as the scapegoat after the Leafs' Game 7 loss to Boston in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. He surrendered three goals in the final 11 minutes of regulation as the Leafs squandered a 4-1 lead and then fell, 5-4, in overtime.

The epic collapse will mean that plenty of Leafs fans and members of the Toronto media will spend the summer asking plenty of what-ifs when it comes to Reimer.

What if Reimer didn't overplay the wraparound on the sequence that led to Nathan Horton's goal?

What if Reimer managed to knock down and cover the point shot by Zdeno Chara instead of placing the rebound right on the stick of Milan Lucic and allowing him to easily score off a rebound and cut the Bruins deficit to one?

What if Reimer played Chara more aggressively on the game's tying goal instead of letting him have his way and screen him, therefore allowing Bergeron's seemingly innocent wrist shot from the point to sail straight in?

These ponderings will all lead to the ultimate question, which is whether Reimer can be a big-game goaltender for a young team that might be a threat to challenge for a Stanley Cup sooner rather than later.

But while many will be quick to chide him for Toronto's playoff collapse, Leafs fans would be remiss to not think of all the strides Reimer made this season.

This was a goaltender who posted career-best numbers during the regular season and was arguably their most solid performer night in and night out. He had a respectable 2.46 goals against average while his .924 save percentage was in the top 10 among starting goaltenders in the league and he managed to do it with the whole "will they or won't they trade for Roberto Luongo" drama hanging over his head.

This was also a goaltender who managed to collect himself after his team was down 3-1 in a playoff series that nobody expected them to win and string together two of the finest performances of his career in Games 5 and 6, when he stopped 72 of 74 combined shots over those two outings.

He also managed the unthinkable, which was manage to convince all of Leafs Nation that the best trade his team made all season was the one they didn't when general manager Dave Nonis failed to acquire the aforementioned Luongo from the Vancouver Canucks.

At just 25 years old - Reimer's birthday was back in March - it seems there are only brighter days ahead for the first legitimate No. 1 netminder to be drafted and play for the Leafs since Felix Potvin.

The only real question with Reimer is how this collapse will affect him mentally moving ahead.

We've witnessed this season how he's managed to put poor performances behind him and come up with big wins when the chips are on the line. After all, Reimer managed to do something no other Leafs goalie had done in the seven seasons prior, which is lead the team to the playoffs.

His next big test will come next season down the stretch when the Leafs will be counting on him again to lead them back into the postseason.

But the fact Leafs fans are already talking about earning redemption in next year's playoffs is an indication of the confidence they have in their team and, implicitly, the confidence they have in the man between the pipes even if they aren't quite in the mood right now to admit it.

For the first time in a long time, the Leafs - and Reimer - seem to be headed in the right direction. Fifteen minutes of poor hockey hasn't changed that fact.