Tim Gleason; Jake Gardiner; Jonathan Bernier;

On Bernier, Reimer and the Leafs’ crease

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It’s hard to believe that James Reimer seems primed to suit up with the Toronto Maple Leafs (and presumably back up Jonathan Bernier) next season, but that is the case.

And — as it turns out — that could be a very, very good thing.

Bernier’s often-stellar play was probably the main reason the Maple Leafs stayed in the playoff picture as long as they did in 2013-14, but the bottom line is that the 26-year-old goalie still only has 117 games of NHL experience under his belt, and fairly close to half (55) of those came last season. In fact, his previous career-high for appearances in a season was just 25.

Bernier’s career numbers — as scant as they are — indicate that he could be for real. Still, goalies are an unpredictable lot, and Reimer represents one of the most qualified backups (or even 1B goalies) you’ll come by next season.

Reimer, also 26, actually has a little bit of extra experience under his belt (140 career games played). Reimer’s career save percentage is .914, not all that far behind Bernier’s .918 mark. He even has two nice statistical seasons under his belt, (20-10-5 with a .921 save percentage in 2010-11 and 19-8-5 with a .924 save percentage in 2012-13).

While many other teams have made long-term commitments to goalies with mixed results, Bernier’s on an expiring deal and Reimer still has much to prove with just a two-year contract. Netminders probably don’t really enjoy fighting for reps and dealing with uncertain futures … but that doesn’t mean their NHL teams can’t benefit from that motivation.

Just ask Reimer, who told Sportsnet earlier this summer he believes the starting job is up for grabs.

Sportsnet: In your mind, are you Jonathan Bernier’s backup or are you coming into camp intent on winning the No. 1 job?

Reimer: Yeah, obviously the latter. I was told there’s a definite opportunity. That’s the mindset I’m coming in with, to really take advantage of the opportunity that’s been given and earn the No. 1 spot.

In other words, it might not have been the prettiest process, but the Maple Leafs might have backed into a great situation in net.

Latest way the Wild lost? Killed by penalty kill

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sits on the ice after giving up a goal to St. Louis Blues' Jori Lehtera, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.

As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?

Actually …

If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.

Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.

Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.

The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.

On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

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Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.