SUNRISE – The Canadiens left South Florida with their 44th win of the year and two more points in the bank, and they’ve got Dustin Tokarski to thank for it.
On Tuesday night, the 25-year-old netminder made 41 stops – including 21 saves in the third period alone – to help the CH close out their three-game road swing with a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center. With the victory, the Canadiens joined the New York Rangers atop the Eastern Conference standings with 95 points on the year.
“It was a good win by the guys. Back-to-back games, they showed a lot of character. There are always going to be tough games. You have to grind them out. We did that against Florida,” offered Tokarski, who picked up his first win since January 17 to run his record to 6-5-3 during the 2014-15 campaign. “The guys did a great job. They blocked shots. They paid the price. All that matters is a win is a win.”
It’s safe to say it wasn’t the easiest of wins, though, particularly in the final frame as the Canadiens were clinging to a one goal advantage with 20 minutes to play. Outshot by a 21-4 margin, Tokarski was called upon time and again to make crticial game-saving stops, especially when Michel Therrien’s troops found themselves down a man on more than one occasion.
“He was exceptional, especially in the third period when we were short on energy after playing four games in six nights,” praised Therrien, whose squad strung together a three-goal second period, with goals coming courtesy of Alexei Emelin, Jacob De La Rose and P.K. Subban. “Of course I liked the way Dustin played in the first and second periods, but in the third he really earned that win. I can’t say it was his best outing of the year, but it was a really good one.”
Tokarski’s teammates were pleased to see the young netminder get back in the win column. After all, the Watson, SK native was denied a W in his previous start on March 5 in Los Angeles following a late-game breakdown that ended with a heartbreaking shootout defeat.
“We wanted to get a win for him, big time,” stressed Brandon Prust, who registered his second multi-point game of the season on Tuesday night by picking up a couple of assists. “We haven’t been playing great in front of him the last few games and the last few starts he’s had. We wanted to make sure we played well for him. We did for the most part, and he held the fort when he needed to.”
That’s for sure. Being peppered with shot after shot like that, however, isn’t something that Tokarski necessarily minds at all.
“My job is to go out there and give our team a chance to win, whether it’s 15 shots on goal or 50 shots. You’ve got to give them a chance to win, and the guys rallied hard and got enough to win,” offered Tokarski, who now boasts a 2.66 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in 15 appearances this season. “We’ve played a lot of hockey lately. It was a tense one the other night in Tampa. The guys played hard against the Panthers, and they showed what it takes. The only thing that matters is the two points. We’re going down the stretch. We’ve got 11 games left. That’s all that matters.”
And, should Tokarski get the call at any point during that span, the Canadiens know full well that they’re in very capable hands between the pipes.
“He was great. I’m not too sure what the final shots were, but I think at times he just bailed us out,” praised Subban. “He was probably our best player.”Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
The Numbers Game: March 17, 2015
Ready and willing
Focusing on themselves
Righting the course