MONTREAL - Dustin Tokarski likely got the surprise of his young career Monday morning when Canadiens coach Michel Therrien informed the 24-year-old rookie goaltender that Tokarski -- with 10 career NHL appearances -- would step into the Montreal net for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"There were definitely nerves, but good nerves," Tokarski said after he made 27 saves in the 3-1 Rangers win Monday night. "You want wins, that's the only thing that matters now. We came up short, but overall, it was a good step."
With the news also Monday morning that Carey Price, the Canadiens' most important player through the regular season and two playoff rounds, would be out the remainder of the series and possibly beyond with a right leg injury suffered on a collision with Chris Kreider in Game 1, Therrien was looking for some sort of spark.
He went with Tokarski, who made only three appearances for the Habs this season, over Canadiens backup Peter Budaj, who played the third period of Game 1. Tokarski has won some big games in his career: a Memorial Cup in 2008 with Spokane of the Western League, a gold medal for Canada in the 2009 World Championships (with Islanders captain John Tavares and Canadiens star P.K. Subban as teammates) and a Calder Cup with Norfolk of the AHL in 2012 while a member of the Lightning organization.
"Yeah, the number one reason why we decided to go with Tokarski, you look at his track record, he's a winner," Therrien said. "I thought he played well tonight."
Not well enough, despite his team coming out blazing. There was not much Tokarski could do on the first Rangers goal, with Ryan McDonagh's shot caroming off Josh Gorges' leg, the post and in. Tokarski did say Rick Nash's off-wing shot caught him off-guard, and that late first-period goal turned out to be the winner.
"I expected him to hold it a little bit more," Tokarski said.
Montreal fans may not have expected such a drastic change in the team's fortunes Monday morning. Price stayed in Game 1 after the collision with Kreider, surrendering two more goals before taking a seat.
He skated for only five minutes Sunday, but Therrien's announcement following the Canadiens' morning skate came as a shock.
Therrien didn't commit to Tokarski getting the Game 3 start at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, when the Canadiens will need a win to keep from falling in a 3-0 series hole.
But the young goaltender knows he will need a massive performance to outshine Henrik Lundqvist, who would have stolen the show no matter who was in the Canadiens net.
"That's a superstar at the other end," Tokarski said, "and he played like it tonight."