TORONTO - James Reimer has been a huge part of the Toronto Maple Leafs' playoff push, but it looks like the heavy workload might be catching up with the rookie goaltender.
Reimer was pulled after allowing five goals on 29 shots Monday as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Maple Leafs 6-2 to severely hamper Toronto’s post-season aspirations.
After making his 12th straight start, Reimer looked shaky at times but refused to blame fatigue on his performance in a game the Leafs had dubbed as their latest "must win."
"I could probably use (being tired) as an excuse," Reimer said in a sombre Toronto locker-room. "Even if that was the case, I'm a professional athlete and you have to find ways to stay focused and keep your head in the game and keep your body at a competitive level."
His coach disagreed.
"I think (Reimer) looked tired," Ron Wilson said, adding his goalie didn't get much support. "We didn't stop their forwards from getting to the front of the net so they had crowded situations and we didn't box out and made it hard on Reims."
Mattias Ritola scored twice on his birthday, Nate Thompson added a goal and an assist and Vincent Lecavalier, former Leaf Dominic Moore and Mike Lundin also scored for Tampa Bay (39-22-9). Teddy Purcell picked up three assists, Martin St. Louis and Brett Clark added two each and Dwayne Roloson made 30 saves for the Lightning.
Dion Phaneuf and Nikolai Kulemin replied for the Maple Leafs (30-30-10), who have just 12 games left in the regular season.
"We expected more out of ourselves. We expected more but the biggest thing is now we move forward," Phaneuf said. "You can't dwell on games, especially this time of the year. You've got to park both the good and the bad ones and this one’s no different."
The Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers sit tied for seventh in the East, four points up on ninth-place Carolina and six up on the Leafs. The Hurricanes visit Buffalo on Tuesday before hosting Toronto on Wednesday. The Maple Leafs then visit Florida on Thursday before coming home for a Saturday night tilt with the Boston Bruins.
The Lightning came into Monday struggling to score and had won just one of their last seven. First-year head coach Guy Boucher said his expectations were clear.
"The message was you can't have (Steven) Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier and wait for them to score goals while you defend well on the other lines," Boucher said. "That's not the way it goes."
Ritola, a fourth-round pick of Detroit in 2005, doubled his goal total on the season with two quick strikes three minutes apart in the second period to give Tampa Bay a 3-1 lead. The 24-year-old banged a rebound out of the air at 9:25 before snapping a quick shot past Reimer at 12:34.
A healthy scratch two games ago, Ritola now has four goals on the season.
"It was a great birthday," Ritola said. "Seeing that second one going in was a great feeling."
After the Leafs cut the deficit to 3-2, Tampa Bay restored its two-goal advantage late in the second. Reimer got a piece of a Simon Gagne shot, but Lecavalier pushed the puck over the goal-line to deflate the Air Canada Centre crowd at 18:53.
Tampa Bay put it out of reach at 8:47 of the third when St. Louis threw the puck in front and Moore banged it home. That ended the rough night for Reimer, who was replaced by J-S Giguere.
"I feel like I'm doing what I did a couple games ago and pucks just aren't hitting me," Reimer said.
Lundin rounded out the scoring at 14:32 of the third period.
The 41-year-old Roloson is 3-0-0 against the Leafs this season and holds and impressive 6-1-0 record versus Toronto since the 2008-09 campaign.
Kulemin got the Leafs back to within a goal at 3-2 at 14:37 of the second when he blocked a Victor Hedman shot and beat Roloson off a 2-on-1.
After Thompson scored in the first, the Leafs tied the game 1-1 at 5:11 of the second. Tim Brent lugged the puck up the ice before sending it to Phaneuf in the high slot. His quick shot beat a surprised Roloson.
It was one of the lone Leaf highlights.
"Throughout the whole game we weren't doing things we usually do.They do a good job of standing up and we weren't chipping pucks by and getting in deep," Leafs centre Tyler Bozak said. "We were playing a lot of 1-on-1 hockey and not really supporting each other and that’s what hurt us in the end."
Notes: Wilson said Toronto F Colby Armstrong suffered a broken foot after blocking a shot in the second period and is likely done for the season.…Brent was back in the Toronto lineup sporting a visor after taking a stick in the eye against Buffalo on Saturday night. Brent says he will continue to wear a visor going forward. ... The Leafs recalled defenceman Matt Lashoff from the AHL's Marlies as insurance on the blue-line. Lashoff must clear re-entry waivers before joining the team.…Announced attendance was 19,410. ... Toronto finished 0-for-3 on the power play, while Tampa Bay finished without a man-advantage chance.