Go ahead and try to handicap this race.

On the inside wearing No. 34 James Reimer has no intention of giving up the lead.

On the outside wearing No. 45 Jonathan Bernier is making his push to be the top horse in coach Randy Carlyle’s barn.

Now that the drive towards the start of the regular season is entering the home stretch the two contenders are noses apart in a competition that might just be too close to call.

Dead heat anybody?

“At some point one of the two of them is going to take the ball and carry it across the line for us” Maple Leafs general manager David Nonis said Wednesday night at a question and answer session with the team’s season ticket-holders.

“I can’t tell you which one it is. What I can tell you is that when you are a young player that has his job solidified you are not nearly as good as one who has a guy trying to take it.”

As we said at the start of training camp this is not a goalie controversy it’s a competition. And if nothing else the way it is playing out will allow Nonis and Carlyle the luxury of added depth at the crucial position perhaps more than the Leafs have had in net for decades.

“The whole season is going to be like this” Bernier said earlier on Wednesday as the Leafs took an off-day from the ice but pounded away in the weight room. “That’s hockey. It’s the same way everywhere I’ve been.

“Even if you think you’re No. 1 there’s always that second guy pushing you. It’s a healthy competition.”

Healthy and so far of relatively high quality. As for the perception throughout the summer that Bernier was brought in with the intention of replacing Reimer Nonis is adamant that wasn’t the case.

At the trade deadline last spring you will recall the team aggressively pursued Miikka Kiprusoff from Calgary but it was because management was concerned about Reimer’s lack of experience.

“We felt we were as young as you could possibly be at that position” the GM said. “We didn’t (look at Kiprusoff) to knock James Reimer out of the box.”

So once the opportunity to acquire Bernier became available in the summer Nonis jumped at the chance for similar reasons.

“One (reason) was depth but a bigger part of it was to push each other to make sure we have top-notch goaltending” Nonis said. “You cannot win in this league without it. We think with these to guys we have a chance to have something very special in net.”