On Saturday night in Montreal, Canadiens’ starting goaltender Carey Price left game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals after a collision with Rangers forward Chris Kreider. On Monday evening, Montreal’s head coach Michel Therrien announced that Price had injured his right leg on the play and would be out for the remainder of the 3rd round. This left Therrien with two choices in net; veteran goaltender Peter Budaj who has served as Carey Price’s backup for the past 3 seasons, or 3rd-string goalie Dustin Tokarski, who only had 7 NHL games under his belt prior to Monday’s contest. Therrien went with Tokarski, telling NBC analyst Pierre McGuire “The kid’s a winner, he’s won a lot of big games in his career”. Tokarski has won a lot of big games in his career. In 2008, he led the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL to the CHL’s Memorial Cup, when he made 53 saves against the Kitchener Rangers to win Spokane’s 2nd Memorial Cup in franchise history. The following year, Dustin Tokarski helped Team Canada win Gold at the 2009 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship. Finally, in 2012, Tokarski backstopped the Norfolk Admirals all the way to the AHL’s Calder Cup, before being traded from the Tampa Bay Lightning (who drafted him 122nd overall in 2008) to the Montreal Canadiens in 2013.
Montreal is a pressure cooker, especially for goalies. Even Patrick Roy, a legendary goalie for the Canadiens and Colorado Avlanche and 2006 Hockey Hall Of Fame inductee couldn’t take the heat there and requested a trade out of Montreal. Yet none of this seemed to phase Dustin Tokarski, who seemed calm and focused before Game 2, despite knowing that the fans expected a great performance after a 7-2 thrashing at the hands of the Rangers in Game 1. The Canadiens came out strong in the 1st period, managing to get the first 5 shots on goal and keeping the Rangers without a single shot until 4:40 into the period.
After a terrible performance in Game 1, the Habs were the better team early on, as the puck was kept in the Rangers’ end of the ice for the majority of the 1st half of the period. Max Pacioretty opened up the scoring at 6:14 when he chipped the puck up and over the left shoulder of Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist. Just 17 seconds later, at 6:31, the Rangers tied the game up when Ryan McDonagh‘s shot from the point deflected off of Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges and past Tokarski on the 2nd shot of the game for New York. The deflection occurred right in front of Tokarski, and it could be argued that even Carey Price wouldn’t have made a save there. Dustin Tokarski is very small at only 5’11”, but he makes up for it with his quickness and agility, as well as his ability to take away the angles from shooters. A few minutes after McDonagh’s goal, a wacky bounce landed in the high slot in front of the Canadiens’ net, and Tokarski made a great play to come out of his crease and challenge Carl Hagelin, who couldn’t beat the rookie goalie on the blocker-side. Later in the period, with about 3 minutes left, the Rangers managed to create some sustained offensive pressure in Montreal’s zone, and Tokarski was forced to be aggressive once more, coming far out of his crease to make a save on Ryan McDonagh who was pinching deep in the offensive zone. At 18:58, Rick Nash scored the Rangers 2nd goal of the game during an odd man rush for New York. Chris Kreider made a great pass to Nash, who one-timed it past the glove of Tokarski and into the net. After 20 minutes of play, Tokarski had made 7 saves on 9 shots by the Rangers, though he can hardly be blamed for both of the goals he let in.
The 2nd period started with New York leading 2-1, despite Montreal outplaying them. They led because of their goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who stole the show all night long with a 40-save performance. Once again, it took the Rangers a while to get a puck on goal, but their 1st shot of the period was a good one when Ryan Mcdonagh threw a one-timer towards the net with Martin St. Louis screening Tokarski at 3:32 during a 4 on 3 powerplay for New York. The Rangers’ 4th line was great all game long, and a player who stuck out for me was Derek Dorsett, who had a great scoring chance at 6:20 when he got in close to Tokarski and got off a great backhand attempt, which Tokarski blockered away to the corner.
Tokarski’s positioning was terrific all night long, and it came up big when he had to quickly to left-to-right and hug the post to stop Ryan McDonagh’s 3rd shot of the night. The Rangers were great on the powerplay all night long, which is something they had struggled with during the 1st two rounds of the playoffs. Martin St. Louis came up big for New York on the powerplay at 8:03, when he got off a one-timer high in the slot that beat Dustin Tokarski while Kreider was screening in front of the net. The powerplay was due to a questionable tripping call on Alex Galchenyuk made by referee Wes McCauley. The Rangers were the better team in the 2nd, creating a lot of offensive zone time for themselves.
At 13:43, Tokarski made a good initial stop on Daniel Carcillo, but he made an even better save when Brian Boyle tried to jam the puck into the net on the rebound. The crowd was dead-silent for the entire 2nd half of the period, which is a rare sight in the Bell Centre, one of the most electric buildings in the league, especially during the playoffs. After 2 periods, the scoring chances were 8-14 in favor of Montreal. The Rangers were leading due to great goaltending as well as the ability to capitalize on their scoring chances. New York outshot the Canadiens 11-8 in the second period.
The Canadiens started the 3rd period with 1:20 of powerplay time, but were unable to score a goal with the man-advantage. There weren’t any great scoring chances until 5:27 when Ryan McDonagh’s wrist shot from the point went through heavy traffic in front of Montreal’s net, but Tokarski was there to make the stop. At 10:13, Derek Dorsett’s shot was heard all throughout the building after he beat Tokarski but hit the crossbar.
The 3rd period was much quieter and far less intense than the previous 2 periods, and it seemed as though you could hear a pin drop with how quiet the Bell Centre was. The Canadiens gave up far too many odd-man rushes all game long, which lead to the goal by Rick Nash and countless other scoring chances for the Rangers. With 4:22 left to go in the 3rd period, Benoit Pouliot took a boarding penalty, and Michel Therrien made a bold move and pulled Tokarski from the net, giving Montreal a 6-on-4 advantage for 2 minutes. The very early pull of the goalie happened because Therrien sensed that his team was playing with no intensity, and he had to do something to try and get them to knot the game up. However, the Canadiens were unable to bring it even, and lost the game 3-1.
All in all, Dustin Tokarski played well for his first career playoff game. In this writer’s humble opinion, he can’t be faulted for any of the 3 goals he gave up on the 30 shots he faced. Tokarski wasn’t able to steal the game for Montreal, but I don’t believe that you can expect a rookie goaltender to be able to do that. On the other side of the ice was one of the best goalies in the league, Henrik Lundqvist, who was able to steal the game for New York, who now have a 2-0 lead over the Canadiens. Game 3 will be at Madison Square Garden at 8 PM EST, and can be seen on CBC, RDS, MSG, and NBCSN.