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Fighting to the finish

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

LOS ANGELES – Some losses hurt more than others, and it’s safe to say that Thursday night’s defeat at STAPLES Center fits that description to a tee.



After coming out flat against the defending Stanley Cup champions and trailing 2-0 through 20 minutes of play as a result, Michel Therrien’s troops dug very, very deep to storm back with three straight goals and ultimately take the lead just over seven minutes into the third period. Unfortunately, Marian Gaborik lit the lamp on the power play with 45 seconds remaining in regulation time to deny the Canadiens a hard-fought regulation victory. Then, Anze Kopitar scored the game-winner in the fourth round of the shootout to secure a 4-3 win for Los Angeles.

“It’s not a good result at all. We had that game in the bag. We were playing the right way, and obviously we let it slip and that’s a frustrating feeling. We’ve got to find ways to close out games, especially against an opponent that’s had a lot of success as of late. They’re making a push. They’re a desperate team. We’ve got to find a way to choke teams out. It’s frustrating that we weren’t able to,” offered Max Pacioretty, who scored his 31st goal of the season in the loss, which ran the Canadiens’ record to 0-2-1 on their current four-game road swing. “Every game writes its own story. We thought we came out slow, but we recouped pretty well and finally got some bounces. We used that for momentum. But, we were 45 seconds away from a two point win in regulation. We can’t let those things happen.”

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 05: Lars Eller #81 of the Montreal Canadiens avoids a check from Brayden McNabb #3 of the Los Angeles Kings during the first period at Staples Center on March 5, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

And, they certainly can’t let themselves be completely dominated right out of the gate the way they were on Thursday night. Outshot by a 13-2 margin in the opening frame, the Canadiens were forced to play catch up from that point on. Tom Gilbert got things going with a highlight-reel marker at the 15:15 mark of the second period, before Brendan Gallagher beat Kings netminder Jonathan Quick just 94 seconds later for his 18th goal of the season to put Los Angeles on the ropes by leveling the score.

“That was a great play. That’s the type of locker room we have. It can be anyone to step up and change momentum and it was him against L.A. He made a great play on that goal singlehandedly to put it together. It got us going. It jump started our offense,” praised Pacioretty, referencing Gilbert’s third goal of the 2014-15 campaign. “For a guy like that, I think it’s even more frustrating to not choke them out and get the win.”

If anyone deserved to be frustrated on Thursday night, it was Dustin Tokarski, who turned in a 26-save performance and kept his teammates going when they appeared to be completely outmatched, particularly in the first period.

“We really wanted to get a win for Dustin. He battled hard. He was there all night for us. When it was 2-0 early, it would’ve been easy for him to give up on us. He kept battling. He gave us a chance to come back and battle the whole night. It was disappointing,” admitted Gallagher. “He made some huge saves to give us a chance. We couldn’t go down 3-0. He gave us a chance to get the point that we did manage to get.”

Tokarski, however, wasn’t about to let his displeasure show after failing to pick up a win in his fourth straight start.

“It was tough for the team. It’s a team game. It’s not an individual sport, so it would’ve been nice to get the two points. But, we’ve got a lot of character in this group. We showed a ton of it battling back. I’ve got to make the saves and seal the game,” emphasized Tokarski, who now boasts a 5-5-3 record and a 2.71 goals-against average in 14 appearances this season. “I’m a goalie. Wingers do their part. Centers do theirs. My job as a goaltender is to stop the puck. If we got lots of shots on goal, that’s my job.”

And, Tokarski certainly has the unwavering support of his head coach, who didn’t mince words when it came to pointing out just how good a game his backup played.

“Dustin isn’t responsible for that loss. It’s the exact opposite,” offered Therrien, whose squad will wrap up its current road trip on Saturday night against the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale. “He kept us in the game.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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