ANAHEIM – Dustin Tokarski’s first game as a Hab was a memorable one.
Called on to make his first start as a member of the Canadiens on the road against the best team in the NHL, Tokarski served up a dramatic win in the sixth round of a shootout in just his eighth career game. Facing the league’s third-most potent offense, the Humboldt, SK native stopped a career-high 39 shots to help the Habs earn an important two points on Wednesday night.
“I had to take it as any other game and just do what I did to get here,” explained Tokarski in understated fashion. “I had to go out there and worry about one thing, stopping the puck. I just had to block everything else out. I think it’s good to have nerves. I had to fight them off and at the end of the first I got a lot of saves in after not many in the first 10 minutes. It felt good going into the second to have some shots.”
Looking to keep his rookie netminder’s nerves at bay as long as possible, Michel Therrien waited until the morning skate to let the 24-year-old know he wouldn’t be watching Wednesday’s game in a ball cap on the visiting bench. Throwing his backup-backup goaltender to the wolves with just a few hours to prepare paid off for the head coach, who watched Tokarski collect the second win of his career to help the Habs hold onto their spot as the No. 3 team in the Eastern Conference.
“It was his first game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. We wanted to make sure he had a good night’s sleep so we didn’t tell him he was playing until this morning,” shared Therrien, whose team is now 14-10 in sudden death situations in 2013-14. “He made some key saves at the right time for us. I was pleased to see [David] Desharnais and [Daniel] Briere get us two goals in the shootout to keep us in it, too.”
Heading into the shootout with a chance to get the green goaltender his first win as a Hab, Briere admits he and his teammates were motivated by more than just the two points at stake in the standings.
“When we got to the shootout all we were thinking about was getting him the win,” described the 16-year NHL veteran, who is now 1-for-2 on shootout attempts this season. “He was great tonight. He made some huge saves to give us a chance to win and at the end we were pushing to get that tying goal for him. It must be an incredible feeling for him and it is for us, too. Getting a big win like that is great for our team.”
Despite having over 40 saves to choose from – including four in the shootout – among his first game highlights as a Hab, Tokarski instead focused on what he saw 200 feet away when asked to pinpoint his favorite moment of the night.
“Definitely just seeing our guy win it in the shootout. It was a sense of relief there and I cellied pretty hard,” admitted Tokarski of Andrei Markov’s winning marker. “Shootouts are just fun. I’m not really nervous in shootouts. You just have to go out there and battle and do whatever you have to do to stop the puck.”
Complementing Tokarski’s clutch shutdown efforts with some timely scoring, the Canadiens outgunned the offense powerhouse in their own building. While he wasn’t expecting to get the call to shoot so early in the sudden-death situation, Markov came up clutch as usual for Montreal with the 18th game-winning goal of his career.
“I was a little bit [surprised to be picked to shoot]. I just went there and closed my eyes and shot the puck – like usual,” joked the 35-year-old blue-liner. “[Dustin] played unbelievably. He made great saves to keep us in the game. We knew we were going to play the best team in the league and we knew it would be a challenge and we would have to play our best. We just tried to stick to the game plan and do our job. Hopefully this gives us confidence to keep it up down the home stretch.”Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.