- Craig Custance
Still, there was something just as compelling about watching a 24-year-old goalie with 10 career NHL starts try to replace him on Monday night.
Like everyone else watching Game 2 between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper’s eyes were on Dustin Tokarski. While we questioned the decision by Canadiens coach Michel Therrien to leapfrog veteran Peter Budaj and go with the kid, Cooper didn’t.
Not at all.
“If there’s one guy who can be in this situation and say he’s got a chance to succeed, it’s this kid,” Cooper said during a Monday evening phone conversation as Tokarski battled against the Rangers. “The kid is a winner. He finds a way to win. There’s some players who have that, some goalies who have that, some coaches who have that -- he’s one of those guys who has that."
Cooper was saying this with Tokarski’s Canadiens already down a couple of goals, but his faith didn’t waiver. Before Cooper had a breakout season as coach of the Lightning, he first had a breakout season as coach of the AHL's Norfolk Admirals. In 2011-12, Cooper set a professional sports record by winning 28 consecutive games in a row, along with a Calder Cup.
Tokarski was his goalie.
There were times when Cooper turned to backup Jaroslav Janus during that championship run, but he always ended up going back to Tokarski.
Therrien should, too.
In Game 2 against the Rangers, Tokarski stopped 27 of 30 shots, good for a .900 save percentage. You might have wanted him to make the stop on Rick Nash, but otherwise it’s hard to pin any of the other goals on him. He wasn’t Henrik Lundqvist, but lately, nobody is.
If you listen to Cooper, Tokarski is the kind of kid who can earn the trust of his team over the course of the series if Montreal can get a break when the series shifts to New York.
“I won’t say he’s going to come through every single time, but that kid will battle for you. He will give you a chance to win a hockey game,” Cooper said. “The one thing about Tokarski, you challenge him, you put him on the spot, he will find a way.”
There’s precedent of a backup replacing a star goalie in the Eastern Conference playoffs and coming through in a big way.