SUNRISE – A few trends have emerged so far in 2014-15 for the Canadiens and they continued in the team’s final game of the calendar year.
Clutch goaltending, the usual shootout hero, winning the second game of a back-to-back, Brendan Gallagher bullying his way into the blue paint; there are some things Habs fans have come to expect like clockwork this season and Tuesday’s game against the Panthers was no exception. While it may have been a different character saving the day between the pipes at BB&T Arena, the result was no different with Dustin Tokarski holding down the fort in his eighth start of the season.
“We continue to be impressed by [Tokarski],” shared Gallagher, who opened the scoring in the second period to score his 11th goal of the campaign. “Every night he’s been in the net, he’s given us a chance to win. He did it again tonight. We have a lot of confidence after what he did in the playoffs and what he’s done this year. He’s been a rock for us and he’s been very consistent. Whenever he’s in the net, we know we’re going to get a great performance.”
Kicking aside 36 of the 37 shots he faced in Florida, Tokarski earned his fourth win of the year in his first NHL game action since November 29. As has become the norm in the Canadiens’ dressing room, the winning netminder wanted nothing to do with claiming any credit for the team’s Conference-best 24th win of 2014-15.
“Guys are playing really well right now, blocking shots and committing,” said Tokarski, whose teammates blocked 15 shots on Tuesday night. “It was just fun to get another win.”
Earning the extra point in the extra frame has also been a familiar storyline for the 2014-15 Habs, thanks in no small part to P-A Parenteau’s shootout magic. Now leading the league with four game deciding goals after beating Roberto Luongo to send the Habs into 2015 on a winning note, Parenteau has been so solid in shootouts that even when he misses, he can’t miss.
“I was trying to go high glove and I went low glove. I missed my shot, literally. I’ll be honest with you guys,” explained the 31-year-old winger, whose team is now 5-1 in shootouts this year. “It’s important any time you win in a shootout. If you’re going to be at the top of the conference or the division, you look back at the season and see how important those points are. It was a point we had lost and we got it back in the shootout so we’re happy. Ticker hadn’t played in a month and we wanted to win that one for him. He’s a great teammate and we were really happy to see him in there tonight.”
Continuing another trend of winning every single game in which they get on the board first, the Habs broke with tradition by opening the scoring for just a 14th time this year. With Tuesday’s win, the team is now a perfect 14-for-14 in those situations and moved back into the top spot in the Eastern Conference heading into the New Year.
“The guys showed a lot of character. We still consider ourselves a young team and the guys keep finding ways to win with their grit,” explained Michel Therrien. “I give them a lot of credit, especially playing a second game in 24 hours against a tough opponent.”
As per usual, the Habs were able to feel at home on the road in South Florida, with the majority of the announced 19,614 fans in attendance proudly sporting bleu-blanc-rouge. While it’s no surprise to see Snow Birds fill the BB&T Center during the holiday break, Gallagher admits he needed some time to adjust to the one trend that’s been fairly consistent in almost every NHL rink when the Habs come to town.
“I was trying to figure out if it went in or not just because everyone was cheering. I was a little confused,” confessed Gallagher with a laugh regarding the crowd reaction after he broke the deadlock late in the second period. “It was nice to hear. We’ve seen it before, obviously, that Habs fans come out here but it was our first time here this year and I guess I maybe forgot a little bit.”
Gallagher should be used to it by now. Giving the fans exactly what they expect will tend to elicit that kind of reaction.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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