By Heather Engel
Those are the words NHL back-up goaltenders essentially live by, starts sometimes coming weeks apart while also being counted upon to step up in relief at a moment’s notice.
Peter Budaj has been just that for the Canadiens since joining the team as a free agent ahead of the 2011-12 season. With Carey Price firmly entrenched as the No. 1, the Slovak stopper has embraced his supporting role.
But, like any back-up, when the starter goes down, expectation is the No. 2 becomes the No. 1 in the interim. It’s what happened earlier in the season when Price was sidelined following the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. And while the results weren’t the best, he was without question the de facto starter.
So when Canadiens coach Michel Therrien opted to go with 24-year-old rookie Dustin Tokarski – who had never before played an NHL playoff game – over Budaj in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final, one could have understood the veteran having a rough time with the decision.
“We did talk to Peter [Monday] morning and he really reacted as a pro. He’s a good teammate,” Therrien said after the loss. “He understood our decision. We let him know the reason why. For sure for him it could be tough.”
That reason was Tokarski’s previous big-game pedigree, having won a Memorial Cup (2008), World Junior Championship gold medal (2009) and Calder Cup (2012). At 31, Budaj is still in search of his first post-season victory in eight appearances at the professional level – seven in the NHL, one in the AHL.
He does, however, boast 296 games of NHL regular season experience under his belt, a factor that many figured would tip the scales in his favor.
“He was awesome. He’s a professional,” Tokarski said. “He plays for the logo on the front, and everybody in here is. … He supported me all day.”
That Budaj, a former starter with the Colorado Avalanche, took it as well as he did wasn’t the least bit surprising to those that have spent at least seven months of the year with him the past few seasons.
“He’s the ultimate teammate. The ultimate teammate. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a teammate like him,” defenseman Josh Gorges said. “He comes to work every single day with a smile on his face – and his job isn’t easy. All year, to be a backup, you’ll never hear him complain. He’s always here for the team to be successful and for the team to be doing well, and that’s all that he cares about.
“He’s just a great man and a great teammate.”