NEW YORK – Dustin Tokarski has two days to relax, and he won’t have to come up with any more answers about whether he is ready for the Stanley Cup playoff stage.
His play on Thursday night against the New York Rangers did all the talking and got the Montreal Canadiens’ postseason drive going in the right direction again.
In his second career NHL playoff game, the 24-year-old Tokarski stopped 35 shots and bounced back from a potentially crushing goal in the final seconds of regulation to lift the Canadiens to a 3-2 overtime win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Montreal still trails the series 2-1, but can get even with a repeat performance at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.
“I did everything I could,” said Tokarski, filling in for the injured Carey Price. “I played the same game all the way. I felt more comfortable as it went along.
“So glad we overcame that late bounce and got the winner.”
That was scored by Alex Galchenyuk, who in his second game of these playoffs, tipped in a pass from Tomas Plekanec at the right post 1:12 into overtime.
Chris Kreider, whose collision with Price in the series opener led to the goalie’s injury, netted the tying goal with 28.1 seconds left to offset Danny Briere’s go-ahead tally for Montreal with 3:02 remaining in regulation.
Galchenyuk scored 13 goals in 65 regular-season games, and he had one previous playoff goal in six career games.
“To be honest, I have no idea what happened,” Galchenyuk said. “(Plekanec) put it on net and it bounced off my stick or hit me. It went in, and the celebration started from there.”
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien made the surprise decision to start the inexperienced Tokarski in Game 2 instead of veteran Peter Budaj, who was shaky in relief of Price in Game 1.
Tokarski played well in the 3-1 loss on Monday and stopped 27 shots. He validated his coach’s decision to stick with him during the first game of the series on enemy ice.
“Dustin Tokarski was phenomenal,” Therrien said. “He’s a battler, and most important thing, he’s a winner.
“I felt our team played with more confidence as the game went on, and (the Rangers) got a break at the end to tie the game up. But without Tokarski’s performance, probably the result would have been different.”
New York had its five-game winning streak snapped, and its run of six straight victories over Montreal also ended. The Rangers fell to 1-1 in overtime in these playoffs. The Canadiens are 3-1.
“We played really well, but we just have to forget about it, move on, and get ready for the next one,” Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said.
Montreal was poised to win it in regulation after Briere scored. Kreider tied it when his shot hit the sliding right skate of defenseman Alexei Emelin in the crease and caromed past Tokarski, who thrust his head upward in disgust as the Garden shook.
“They tied it with 20 seconds left, and it was an emotional game,” Galchenyuk said. “It was tough coming back in the locker room, but we focused. We have a character team, and we bounced back.”