With the Montreal Canadiens facing elimination Tuesday night, injured goalie Carey Price seems to have ramped up his attempts to get back in the lineup.
After skating for 20 minutes in a track suit before Monday’s practice, Price took to the ice in full gear Tuesday morning, an hour before his teammates were scheduled to go on the ice.
Price, who is said to be nursing a knee injury, reportedly was skating Tuesday, performing a lot of side-to-side movement and took soft shots for about 30 minutes with Canadiens goalie coach Stephane Waite and head athletic therapist Graham Rynbend.
He left Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Conference final at 3:15 of the second period, clutching his right knee after New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider collided with Price skates-first.
When Montreal coach Michel Therrien announced on May 19 that Price would miss the balance of the series, he did say the netminder could return if the Canadiens advanced to the Stanley Cup final.
"There is a process in place for him to come back, but it won't be in the next few days," said Therrien. "And we don't want to start thinking about the next series because we have a [very] big game to play.
"But Carey is working really hard in physio and in the gym. [Monday] was a step, this was another step in his rehab. He's working on what he has to do."
Dustin Tokarski, who played the bulk of this season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League, has been solid in Price’s absence, sporting a 2.62 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in three starts. He is expected to start Tuesday's game.
Memorial, Calder Cup champion
Therrien gave the Memorial Cup and Calder Cup champion the nod in Game 2 over regular backup Peter Budaj after the latter allowed three goals on eight shots in relief of Price in the series opener.
Tokarski, 24, played in only 10 regular season NHL games before this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, perhaps because teams are wary of using an undersized (five-foot-11) goalie, but the Watson, Sask., native has held his own.
Forward Max Pacioretty has no worries about having Tokarski in the net.
"Not at all, anymore," said Pacioretty. "You don't see goalies get hurt too often, so at first it's kind of a tough pill to swallow.
"But since Game 1 we've had confidence in Dustin. Each game he's better and better and I think that confidence has gone to a whole new level."
He was excited to see Price back on the ice, however.
"Seeing him every day and talking to him, we know his timeline and we know we have to win for him to come back," he said. "And that he will come back if we win.
"So seeing him put the pads on gets the boys going a bit more than it would just seeing him on the (trainer's) table. But we know we have to win to get him going and we want to do that for him."
Defenceman Mike Weaver said Tokarski has earned the team's confidence.
"Having a goalie back there where you know he's going to make that key save consistently, everybody's behind him," said Weaver. "We've just got to concentrate on we do — speed, getting pucks to the net and getting bodies to the net."
The Rangers had good news on the injury front as well as Derek Stepan skated while wearing a guard on his helmet to protect his broken jaw.
Stepan was injured in Game 3 on a blindside hit that earned Montreal's Brandon Prust a two-game suspension. While Stepan finished the game, he had surgery the next day on his jaw.
He was to be checked out by three doctors, but was expected back in the lineup.
Coach Alain Vigneault was ready to welcome back one of his top centres.
"I could be wrong here, I think the last game he missed was his first one in four years, right?" said Vigneault. "He's played all the games I've been here except for the last one, and prior to that he's played all the games since he's been a New York Ranger.
"He's a good, young player that is a big part of our team. He plays huge minutes, plays five-on-five, power play, penalty killing. He's the only right-handed face-off guy. So he's a big part of our team and has been a big part of our team's success."