The Montreal Canadiens were carried to victory last night by their starting goaltender was a familiar refrain all season. Most of that was thanks to an incredible season by Carey Price, but last night, Dustin Tokarski filled the role of goaltender and reason for victory.
Tokarski played almost the entire season with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League and though he was good, no one expected him to be the reason the Habs won a game in the Eastern Conference Final.
The 24 year old goaltender has won at every level, and been a huge part of every win at those levels. However, being a Memorial Cup, Calder Cup and World Junior winner doesn’t mean much to an NHL team if you can’t get the job done on the biggest stage.
The stage doesn’t get much bigger than Madison Square Garden in the Eastern Conference Final in a game where if you lose, your team is trailing the series three games to none. Not to mention the 18 skaters in front of Tokarski hardly show up until the third period, so he had two options, lose or be phenomenal.
Tokarski stopped 13 of 14 shots he faced in the first period, including a beautiful cross ice pass that Dan Carcillo nearly buried before being thrown out of the game. It was the first shot Tokarski faced in the game, and he went post to post to get his pad on what looked like a sure goal. The Rangers didn’t stop there, as they got the game’s next six shots as well, but Tokarski turned them all aside as the Habs skaters snoozed their way through the period.
The only shot the Rangers got by Tokarski in the first period, Tokarski was buried underneath his own defenseman, Josh Gorges, and pushed into the back of the net. He, or any goaltender in the world, had no chance of making a save on that one.
It was off to the second period, the Habs clinging to a one goal disadvantage, thanks to Tokarski it was not more of a hole they had to find a way to erase. The Rangers kept firing shots, this time hitting the net 13 times, but Tokarski turned away all of them, allowing the Habs to tie the game on an Andrei Markov goal early in the period.
Tokarski’s second period was highlighted by an enormous sprawling glove save off a Martin St Louis wrister. St Louis received a pass down low and to the left of Tokarski and just when it looked like the Rangers would regain the lead, Tokarski reached out with his toe and glove to get a piece of the shot and keep the game tied.
Tokarski would face nine more shots in the third period, stopping all of them except a bouncing puck that was kicked into the Habs net by Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin. Still, Tokarski had stopped 34 of 36 shots fired his way in regulation, and was the sole reason the Canadiens pushed the game into overtime.
Once overtime began, Tokarski stopped a Brad Richards attempt about a minute into the period and that would be all he needed to do in extra time. Finally, the skaters scored the game winner for their rookie goaltender, and Tokarski had earned his first even NHL playoff victory. Thanks to his incredible 35 save effort, Montreal is not facing a 3-0 series deficit, and is alive and well in this Stanley Cup semi final series.
Tokarski may not instill the confidence that Carey Price does, but after the Game 3 victory, you can bet the Montreal Canadiens skaters have a lot more belief that this rookie goaltender can bring them to the Stanley Cup Final.
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