MONTREAL – Before Monday’s game, Carey Price gave rookie goaltender Dustin Tokarski his blessing.
Tokarski battled hard in his first NHL post-season appearance, stopping 27 shots in Montreal’s 3-1 loss at home to the New York Rangers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final.
“(Price) said: ‘Go out there, play your game and do your best. That’s all you can do,'” said 24-year-old Tokarski.
“You grow up as a kid wanting to play in the playoffs, and I got the opportunity and just came up a bit short. It was a lot of fun. There was a lot of adrenaline.”
The words of advice came shortly after Tokarski was told he would be replacing the Canadiens’ starting goaltender between the pipes.
Price was injured in the second period of Montreal’s 7-2 loss to New York on Saturday when Rangers winger Chris Kreider slid skate-first into the netminder. Price remained in the game, but watched the third period from the bench.
Tokarski got the nod in lieu of backup goaltender Peter Budaj, who owns a below-average .843 save percentage in the playoffs.
“It was a tough decision,” said Montreal coach Michel Therrien, who told Tokarksi he was getting the start before the pre-game warmup. “The kid played well tonight. I liked his performance. Look at his track record. He’s a winner. With that, we decided to go with him tonight.”
Tokarski was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008. That year, he backstopped the Spokane Chiefs to a Memorial Cup. In 2009, Tokarski led Team Canada to a world junior championship, and he won the AHL title with the Norfolk Admirals in 2012.
On Monday, the rookie from Watson, Sask. was beaten three times on 30 shots. Rick Nash scored the game-winner late in the second period on an odd-man rush, and Martin St. Louis made it 3-1 mid-way through the third, sealing the deal with a power-play goal from the slot.
The first goal allowed by Tokarksi came 17 seconds after Max Pacioretty had given the Canadiens the lead in the first period.
Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh banked a harmless shot from the point off Josh Gorges’ back, completely fooling Tokarksi in the process. McDonagh, who was selected 12th overall by the Canadiens in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, now has six points in the series.
“It’s one of those frustrating goals because it was a nothing shot,” said Gorges, who finished the game with a minus-2 rating. “Tokarski didn’t have a chance on that one. You never want to see those types of goals going in, especially after we had just scored. And we were playing really good hockey at that point.”
Tokarksi was otherwise solid throughout. He stopped four shots from both Marc Staal and Derek Stepan, and made 10 saves in the third period to keep the Canadiens in the game.
His counterpart, Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 40 shots for the win, thought the Canadiens rookie played well despite the loss.
“The mental aspect is everything for a goalie,” said Lundqvist. “Coming in like this, it’s all about how you approach it, how you think. He was probably in a good place because he played well. It’s about not putting too much pressure on yourself.”
“We can’t ask for anything more for him,” added Montreal’s P.K. Subban. “He did a good job. He shut the door. He gave us an opportunity to win this game, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Down 0-2 in the series, the Canadiens head to New York City for Game 3 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
“This is an opportunity for us to show our character and our resiliency,” said Subban. “We feel good about ourselves. We have a lot more to give, and better hockey ahead of us. We’re going to remain positive. We just have to clean up a few things.
“There will be nothing better to do than go into their building and play some good hockey and steal a couple of games.”
Notes: Alex Galchenyuk returned from a knee injury to make his NHL playoff debut.…Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former Canadiens coach Jacques Demers were in attendance.…Michael Bournival and Francis Bouillon were healthy scratches.…Montreal lost for the first time in these playoffs when scoring first (7-1).…Nash scored in consecutive post-season games for the first time in his career.…The Rangers are now 27-34-2 in 63 playoffs encounters with the Canadiens.