QUEBEC – Dustin Tokarski is making a case to win the back-up goaltending job with the Montreal Canadiens.
Tokarski made 27 saves and Brandon Prust got the game-winning goal on a third-period breakaway as the Canadiens downed a strong Colorado Avalanche lineup 3-2 in NHL pre-season play on Friday night.
Tokarski is trying to dislodge incumbent Peter Budaj as back-up to Carey Price. He was picked ahead of Budaj when Price was hurt in the Eastern Conference final in the spring, but Budaj is thought to have the edge because he has a year left on a one-way NHL contract.
“Tokarski played very well,” coach Michel Therrien said. “We saw in the playoffs last spring that he’s a battler, a gamer.
“He made some good saves and the guys around him tried to help him by protecting the front of the net.”
Jiri Sekac and Sven Andrighetto also scored as Montreal swept a two-game series on consecutive nights from the Avalanche, both by 3-2 scores. Budaj stopped all 17 shots he faced in 31 minutes of action on Thursday night.
Erik Johnson and Ryan O’Reilly scored for Colorado.
Colorado, which was the “home” team, dressed something close to a full NHL lineup while Montreal barely met the minimum of eight NHL players or first round draft picks.
But the Canadiens weren’t overwhelmed, and the line of Sekac, Andrighetto and Jacob de la Rose created several dangerous scoring chances. All three are battling for what may be one open roster spot on right wing, with the 22-year-old Sekac likely leading the race.
Therrien said he wasn’t being disrespectful of Quebec City fans by dressing mostly prospects, but he needed to get a good look at his youngsters before cuts are made.
“The two teams put on a good show and I think the fans saw that,” he said. “I need to evaluate the young players in our organization to see how far they’ve progressed.”
The Avalanche were the Quebec Nordiques until 1995 and they got a rousing ovation from the sell-out crowd of 15,074 at what will likely be the last NHL game played at the Pepsi Colisee, as a new rink is nearing completion nearby. The Canadiens were booed.
Joe Sakic, the former Nordiques star who is now vice president in Colorado, got a huge cheer when he shown on the scoreboard. And Avs coach Patrick Roy, a Quebec City native who ran the junior Quebec Remparts before taking the Colorado coaching job last season, is always an attraction.
But the new rink is scheduled to open Sept. 15, and if the teams return for a pre-season game next year, it will be in a shiny new venue.
Canadiens centre David Desharnais, who is from the Quebec City area, appreciated one last chance to play at the faded, old-fashioned Colisee.
“We were thinking more about playing in a new rink if we come back next year rather than playing the last game in the Colisee,” said Desharnais. “The ice was bad. The puck was bouncing everywhere. And it was really hot in the building.
“But if it really is the last NHL game here, I’m glad I got a chance to play in it and win the game.”
Colorado opened the scoring on a power play at 17:40 when Johnson took a cross-ice pass from Matt Duchene and beat Tokarski from the left circle.
Sekac just missed a scoring chance when Andrighetto kept the puck in at the blue-line and saw his long shot deflect off Johnson’s back and fool Semyon Varlamov 8:54 into the second frame.
Gabriel Dumont hit a goalpost, then shot the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. Colorado didn’t take long to score on the power play as O’Reilly found room in front to beat Tokarski with a low shot 3:52 into the third.
But moments later, Sekac used second effort to circle the net and stuff in a goal.
Then Desharnais sent Prust in alone to flip a backhand shot over Varlamov.