MONTREAL – Michel Therrien told the Montreal Canadiens that they owe it to Carey Price to advance to the Stanley Cup final so that their top player has a chance to play another game this season.
The decision to turn to Dustin Tokarski for the remainder of the Eastern Conference final gives Therrien the best odds to come through for his fallen goaltender.
The 24-year-old has played in a world junior championship, a Memorial Cup and a Calder Cup. And he’s won them all. That big-game experience is far more important than his inexperience at the NHL level. As a former coach of his told Sportsnet: "The kid is a winner. I am a big Tokarski fan."
Peter Budaj has appeared in just eight total playoff games in his 13-year professional career. He’s a longtime NHL goalie, yes, but there isn’t anything in his body of work that suggests he could back the Habs to four wins in the next six games under considerable pressure.
Not only did he surrender three power-play goals on eight shots to the Rangers after relieving Price on Saturday afternoon, he has never registered a victory in a Stanley Cup playoff game. Over seven appearances, he has a .843 save percentage.
Tokarski spent the past season playing in the American Hockey League for a weak Hamilton Bulldogs team and still posted a respectable .919 save percentage. He was also rock solid in his first three NHL appearances for the Habs, which included a 39-save victory at Anaheim and a shutout in Buffalo.
Therrien is believed to be a fan of the No. 3 man on the organization’s depth chart.
An unmistakable pall hung over the Habs suburban practice facility as the coach delivered the news about Price’s status on Monday morning. It left some pronouncing the team dead before Game 2 had even arrived. No specific injury update on Price was provided; the goaltender clutched his right knee after getting run over by Chris Kreider during Saturday afternoon’s game.
"I’m really disappointed," Therrien said. "Obviously he’s our best player. Looking at the incident, it’s a reckless play. That’s the truth. And Kreider, this is not the first time he’s going at goalies.
"So, we end up losing our best player."
The Habs have grown progressively more upset about the collision with each passing day. You’d have to think the diagnosis on Price is the main reason why. Therrien described it as an accident after the game, upgraded it to a play where Kreider should have done more to avoid contact on Sunday and was fully outraged by Monday morning.
As for Kreider, he was left with only a hint of regret. "I look back on it and think I wish I would’ve put (the puck) in the net," he said.
The collision has completely altered the scope of this series. Therrien indicated that he had chosen a Game 2 starter by Monday morning, but refused to offer any insight into the decision-making process. However, when I asked him whether he trusted Tokarski, he responded: "Honestly, I like your question" before proceeding to avoid answering it.
From this seat, the benefits of starting Tokarski are two-fold. It catches the attention of his players and forces them to play a more detailed game than they managed on Saturday. It also introduces the element of the unknown and that is extremely important right now.