TORONTO - Usually able to block out crowd noise or ignore it, James Reimer heard the fans loud and clear. With 61 seconds left, they were chanting his name after he made his 43rd save of the night.
Reimer stopped two more in the final minute to get to 26 in the third period alone and 45 overall as he backstopped the Toronto Maple Leafs to an impressive 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.
"He was first star, simple as that," coach Randy Carlyle said of Reimer. "They had some point-blank chances and he stood tall to the task."
This, the Leafs' third straight win, had them feeling good after two strong periods against one of the NHL's most intimidating opponents and one in which they leaned heavily on Reimer.
"We know they're obviously a powerhouse team in this league," said centre Peter Holland, who scored the game-winning goal 2:21 into the third period. "You've got to give them a good game if you want to stay in it. I thought we got away from it in the third period a little bit, they started shelling our goalie, but he was there to back us up."
Reimer gave up a pair of power-play goals, one in each of the first two periods to Brad Richards and Brent Seabrook. The Leafs (6-4-1) got goals from Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk, and from there Reimer shut the door.
Seemingly at his best under siege in the third period, Reimer made sprawling saves on the penalty kill at one point after a shot hit the cross-bar and was stellar amid a flurry of activity in the crease later. Reimer kept telling himself to relax.
"It's one of those things where obviously the tendency is to get really hyped up and try and work too hard or over-work," he said. "The thing is just to stay calm and stay in peace but still keep that competitiveness up to try and fight through the traffic."
After keeping things fairly even for the first two periods, the Leafs were outshot 26-7 in the third. On the edge of losing the lead, Reimer was rolling.
"His composure's the biggest thing of why he's able to handle that workload and the pressure that's put on him," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. "He was a difference-maker for us tonight, and I can't say enough good things about the way that he played. Right from the drop of the puck he kept us in the game. We did a lot of good things, too, but when we needed him he was there."
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville thought the third period was one of his team's best of the season so far. He agreed with Phaneuf that Reimer was the difference.
"Had the chances, opportunities, missed a lot of tip shots, as well," Quenneville said. "You play like that you'll find a way to score goals."
In goaltender Corey Crawford's first start since Oct. 18 after being out with an upper-body injury, the Blackhawks (6-4-1) lost for the fourth time in six games.
"You don't win, obviously there's cause for concern," winger Patrick Kane said. "Try to regroup here, we've got a big one tomorrow obviously going home playing Winnipeg, a division game, hopefully our fans give us a little bit of a boost and we can regroup."
While the Blackhawks return home to face the Jets, the Leafs will take a day off before travelling west for a two-game road trip against the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche.
Having won three in a row, the Leafs are feeling much different than they were a week ago after a humiliating performance at home against the Boston Bruins.
"We couldn't continue to go the way we were going, and our performance against Boston was one where in our minds and in their minds was unacceptable," Carlyle said.
The Leafs took care of business against the lowly Buffalo Sabres and then beat the banged-up Columbus Blue Jackets. Saturday night was a major test with the Blackhawks in town, and they were up to the challenge.
"For us to play that well against a team that good at the end of a back-to-back, I think it shows a lot about the character and the commitment we have in our room right now," Reimer said.
In addition to Reimer's brilliance, the Leafs needed timely offence. Van Riemsdyk's goal was the 100th of his career and 100th point with the Leafs and came in his first-ever game against brother Trevor, a rookie defenceman for the Blackhawks.
Holland's goal was his first of the season but fourth in four career games against Chicago.
"I seem to be a bit of a Blackhawk killer," Holland said. "I don't know. Just try and elevate your game against good teams."
Notes — Before the game Carlyle said Joffrey Lupul will miss three weeks with a broken bone in his right hand. Lupul's injured hand will remain in a cast for at least 10 days before he can put a glove on it again. ...Sam Carrick was summoned from the AHL's Toronto Marlies to replace Lupul in the lineup and had 4:15 of icetime. ... Blackhawks defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson took a puck to the face in the second period. Hjalmarsson, who does not wear a protective visor was cut just below his left eye and left the ice in distress. Hjalmarsson returned at the start of the third period wearing a visor. ... "O Canada" was performed by 19-year-old Carley Allison, a survivor of trachea cancer who is currently battling double lung cancer. ... During the second period, PA announcer Andy Frost offered the team's well-wishes to Gordie Howe, who's recovering from a serious stroke. Arena video boards featured the message: "Stay Strong Mr. Hockey."
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