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Canadiens goalie Tokarski plays well in surprise start

by Sean Farrell

MONTREAL -- Dustin Tokarski's championship pedigree won out in Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien's mind when it came down to choosing between the third-string goalie and backup Peter Budaj to take over for injured Carey Price.

Tokarski, who has won an IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal and Memorial Cup and Calder Cup titles, couldn't carry the Canadiens in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers on Monday. New York defeated Montreal 3-1 behind the 40-save performance of Henrik Lundqvist to take a 2-0 series lead.

"The number one reason why that we decided to go with Tokarski, you look at his track record, he's a winner, and I thought he played well tonight," Therrien said.

Tokarski stopped 27 of 30 shots in his Stanley Cup Playoff debut. He appeared in three road games with Montreal during the regular season, including two starts, and went 2-0-0 with a 1.84 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.

"I thought he played great tonight, he gave us a chance," Canadiens captain Brian Gionta said. "You know, those are tough goals to stop, the ones that went in, and I thought he did a great job, very composed for a young guy like that."

The 24-year-old native of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, said he was excited when he found out he was starting Game 2 before the Canadiens' morning skate Monday.

"You grow up as a kid wanting to play in the playoffs, and I got the opportunity and came up a bit short," said Tokarski, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the fifth round (No. 122) of the 2008 NHL Draft.

Acquired from Tampa Bay on Feb. 14, 2013, for Cedrick Desjardins in a swap of minor-league goalies, Tokarski won his Canadiens debut March 5 in a 4-3 shootout victory against the Anaheim Ducks. He recorded his first NHL shutout with a 29-save performance in a 2-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres on March 16.

Tokarski was tested early in his first playoff game at Bell Centre when he came up with a left-pad save on Rangers forward Martin St. Louis' backhand attempt.

"It felt good," Tokarski said. "It was good to get a tough one in there early and get in the game."

Of the three goals he allowed Monday, Tokarski wished he could have a do-over on Rick Nash's one-timer at 18:58 of the first; it proved to be the game-winning goal.

"The second one, I was expecting him to hold on to it a bit more, and he caught me off guard a bit with the shot," Tokarski said. "I would like to have beat the pass and gotten there on that one."

Price was injured early in the second period of the Canadiens' 7-2 loss Saturday in the series opener. Rangers forward Chris Kreider crashed skates first into Price's pads when he drove in on a breakaway. Price remained in the game through the end of the second period but was replaced by Budaj for the third.

On Monday, the Canadiens revealed that Price sustained an injury that will sideline him for the rest of the series. He was wearing a knee brace on his right leg when he arrived at Bell Centre prior to the game Monday.

Tokarski welcomed the opportunity to stand in for Montreal's No. 1 goalie in the conference final.

"There's always pressure, but it's good pressure," Tokarski said. "It's what you want to have."

Game 3 is Thursday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

Tokarski was asked if Price offered him any advice prior to his playoff debut.

"Yeah, he just said, 'Go out there, play your game and be a warrior and do your best. That's all you can do,'" Tokarski said.

In 24 regular-season games, Budaj was 10-8-3 with one shutout, a 2.51 GAA and a .909 save percentage.

"We did talk to Peter [Monday] morning, and he really reacted as a pro," Therrien said. "And he's a good teammate, understands our decision. We let him know the reason why, so for sure for him it could be tough. It was a tough decision, but we had to take it."

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was not caught off guard by Therrien's decision.

"Somehow we had an inclination [Sunday] night that it was probably going to be [Tokarski], so it didn't really surprise us," Vigneault said.

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