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Tokarski impressed Canadiens with composure

by Tal Pinchevsky

NEW YORK -- Montreal Canadiens forward Daniel Briere has seen a lot in his 17 NHL seasons, but even he admits he's never seen anything quite like the meteoric ascent of goaltender Dustin Tokarski.

The longtime minor-league goaltender was plucked from obscurity and dropped onto hockey's biggest stage after Montreal starter Carey Price was injured in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Making his Stanley Cup Playoff debut in Game 2 against the New York Rangers on Monday, Tokarski impressed his teammates by making 27 saves in a 3-1 loss. But it was his poise and calmness in the face of intense pressure that won over the Montreal locker room.

"I thought he reacted well. He seemed comfortable. He made the saves that he had to make," Canadiens forward Daniel Briere said Wednesday. "He didn't seem too nervous. I'm sure on the inside he was. I would have been. He seemed in control."

Briere has witnessed other goaltenders emerge from the shadows to become playoff heroes. As a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, Briere saw starting goaltender Brian Boucher sustain a knee injury in the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins. With Boucher out, Michael Leighton took over the crease and helped Philadelphia reach the Stanley Cup Final with a run that included back-to-back shutouts against Montreal in the Eastern Conference Final.

But even Briere admits Tokarski's sudden promotion is far more surreal.

"I've had some crazy goalie stories in my time in Philly in the playoffs, but this story is different," Briere said. "I thought he played well for us the last game. Dustin has nothing to feel ashamed of. I thought he played extremely well and gave us a chance to win."

Although Briere is likely the only Canadiens player who has witnessed anything rivaling Tokarski's sudden rise, he's not the only one impressed by the goaltender's calm approach to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Right up until the moment he led Montreal onto the Bell Centre ice for Game 2, Tokarski seemed to show grace under unbelievable pressure.

"Even on game day, after morning skate, we were talking about something, and he was just joking around," Montreal forward Brandon Prust said. "I thought he'd be a little more nervous and a little more quiet. But he was joking around and chatting."

Tokarski does have big-game experience. He won a Calder Cup championship with the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League in 2012 and the Memorial Cup with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League in 2008, when he won the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the tournament's most valuable player. He also was the goalie for Canada when it won a gold medal at the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship.

The Canadiens are hopeful that championship pedigree pays off in Game 3 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday (8:00 p.m. ET; NBCSN. CBC, RDS). New York leads the best-of-7 series 2-0.

"He's got some experience in his past where he's been through stuff like this and done a real good job," Prust said. "We're hoping for more of the same."


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