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Penguins Room: Pens Overcome ‘Emotional’ Days, Tokarski Beats Nerves



Dustin Tokarski, Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins don’t often do things the easy way.

But rarely do they make it as hard on themselves as they did in the first seven-plus minutes of their 5-4 victory over Vancouver at PPG Paints Arena Tuesday night.

They spotted the Canucks a 3-0 lead, then turned to a goaltender who hadn’t played in the NHL this season to help get them back into it.

Improbable? Sure.

Did it work? Definitely.

Dustin Tokarski turned aside all but one of the 19 shots he faced after replacing Casey DeSmith, earning recognition as the game’s No. 3 star in the process.

He might have gotten an even better one, except that Evgeni Malkin scored two goals and set up two others, while linemate Jason Zucker chipped in with a goal, an assist and the most crushing check of the evening, on Vancouver’s Conor Garland late in the first period.

The Penguins were also fresh from an emotional visit to Montreal to be with teammate Kris Letang at his father’s funeral service Monday.

“I give our team a lot of credit. I’m proud of the group,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “It’s not easy to dig yourself out of a three-goal deficit, especially under some of the circumstances. We’ve had a couple of real emotional days — from a team standpoint, I couldn’t be more proud of this group.”

Dustin Tokarski

Tokarski admitted that he was a bit nervous when told that he’d be entering the game at 7:06 of the opening period, with Vancouver up, 3-0.

He also figured he might have been even more nervous if he’d had more time to think about it.

“You get thrown in, you just have to go in and play, trust your instincts,” he said. “And do the best you can.”

Which, in his case on this night, was pretty good. His performance earned pointed praise from his teammates, and even an acknowledgment by Tokarski that he was satisfied with how he had done.

“I think so,” he said. “A win is a win.”

Tokarski was summoned from the Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton when No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry was injured in the Winter Classic Jan. 2, and didn’t dispute that the caliber of competition is noticeably higher at this level.

“Guys can just finish like no other here,” he said. “They’re both good leagues, but obviously up here, you’ve got the super-superstars who can pick corners. You can’t be cheating. You have to play honest.”


Jason Zucker

Zucker never is shy about playing the body, but rarely does he lay out an opponent the way he did Garland.

“He lost the puck,” Zucker said. “I thought he was just going to chip it, and once he lost it, he kind of had it in his feet. That was when I kind of reacted, and went in for the hit.”

Zucker has struggled to stay healthy much of the time since being acquired from Minnesota, but has avoided major injuries this season and is having the impact the Pittsburgh Penguins were hoping for when then-GM Jim Rutherford traded for him.

Zucker, though, feels he’s capable of even more.

“I’m still trying to get better,” he said. “My expectations for myself are higher than anybody else’s.”

Coach Mike Sullivan

This victory didn’t play out exactly the way Mike Sullivan — or any other coach — would have drawn it up, but he praised his players for the way they stayed with it.

Not only because they were coming off a road trip that took them across the country, but because they had spent the previous day in Montreal with teammate Kris Letang, whose father had died a little more than a week earlier.

“I give our team a lot of credit,” Sullivan said. “I’m proud of the group. It’s not easy to dig yourself out of a three-goal deficit, especially under some of the circumstances … we’ve had a couple of real emotional days, from a team standpoint.”

As he so often does, Sullivan offered unsolicited praise for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ leadership group, which he said helped to inspire their comeback.

“Those guys, they were pretty vocal on the bench,” he said. “I thought they played an inspired game. Even though we were down a few goals, we felt like we were carrying a lot of the play. We just tried to stay with it. … But the character of our leadership steps up on those types of occasions, and they did it again for us tonight.”