WASHINGTON - Dustin Tokarski slammed the proverbial door on the Capitals on Thursday night, pacing the Canadiens to a second straight road win.
The 25-year-old netminder turned aside 29 shots in regulation time, before denying Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Andre Burakovsky in a five-round shootout to lead Michel Therrien’s troops to a 2-1 victory at the Verizon Center in his first outing of the 2014-15 campaign.
It wasn’t the easiest of victories for the Watson, SK native, who came under siege throughout the opening frame as the Capitals peppered the Canadiens’ goal, outshooting them by a 15-2 margin through 20 minutes of play. Fortunately, the former fifth-round selection conceded just one goal during that span, giving his teammates a chance to fight back, and ultimately pick up a valuable two points in the standings.
“It was a situation of back-to-back games on the road, and it was a good test for us after we shook off our legs. They came hard at us. We expected that. They took it to us there, but after that the guys regrouped and showed a lot of character. In the end, we got the win,” offered Tokarski, who registered his fourth career victory in the regular season on Thursday night, outdueling Capitals starter Braden Holtby. “As a goaltender, you’ve always got to be ready. It was their home opener, so they came out with a lot of jam. They’re a good team, but the guys kept the game to just one goal down, and battled back.”
While Tokarski was undoubtedly impressed by the manner in which the players in front of him rallied after a rough start, it’s safe to say they were equally as proud of their netminder for staying the course from puck drop onward.
“It’s a tough one being away and playing against a team in their home opener. They’re on a high. In the first period, Ticker really stood out for us. It was amazing. I can’t say enough about the guy. He came out and just saved a lot of shots. It was great to see. Everybody kind of came back here in the second and third. We kind of regrouped and that was that,” explained defenseman Mike Weaver, referencing the fact that the Canadiens outshot their opponents by a 21-13 margin over the final two periods of regulation time, with Tomas Plekanec scoring the equalizer at 10:31 of the third period to send the game to overtime. “Ticker just kept us in the game, and stole the game for us.”
Tokarski’s standout performance in the District of Columbia didn’t come as a surprise to anyone inside the Canadiens’ locker room. After all, the talented goaltender’s outstanding efforts during the Eastern Conference Finals last May are still very fresh in many of the coaches’ and players’ minds alike.
“He’s a smaller guy with exceptional character, and he proved it once again. Without his performance, especially in the first period, I don’t think we would’ve won this game,” praised head coach Michel Therrien, who has long admired Tokarski’s competitive spirit and relentlessness in pressure-packed situations. “He really deserved his first win of the season.”
Tokarski’s former World Junior Hockey Championship teammate, P.K. Subban, would certainly agree with that assessment.
“He’s great. I’m not surprised by his performance. He’s always been that type of player,” confided Subban, who claimed a gold medal alongside Tokarski as a member of Team Canada back in 2009. “We started behind the eight-ball, but we stuck to the game plan. We came back in the room and regrouped. It took time, but it kept coming. These are the things that you like to see this early in the season.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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