Today is one that could have been Game 7 for the Montreal Canadiens. A game many believe would have sent the Habs to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in two decades. In what’s known as “Habs Nation,” speculation is rampant about who will return to the team next season, who will stay, who will be signed and who will be traded. And along with that come the judgments and the outlandish.
One such “debate” took place on social media, where the idea of Dustin Tokarski‘s future has been discussed at length. This young man (only two years younger than the Canadiens’ primary — and star — goalie, Carey Price) was brought in by coach Michel Therrien, with full consideration as to the implications of bypassing regular backup, Peter Budaj. Tokarski had already proven himself with the team once before (on a road trip in March), but when he started making the big saves in the Eastern Conference Finals, I wonder if even coach Therrien was pleasantly surprised.
Based on his performance alone, one cannot assume he will become the regular backup goalie. Yet his demeanor, commitment and pedigree speak loudly for that very eventuality. One very savvy fan, when asked his opinion of Tokarski’s future, said, “Tell him to start shopping for an apartment.” And from what the analysts are saying, that seems to be the general feeling.
Is he “too good to play backup?” I don’t believe so. In fact, there are always improvements any player can make. And Tokarski can certainly tidy up his rebound control, for one.
But all through Game 6, Tokarski was the one consistent player on the ice; the team in front of him was the reason the Canadiens did not get to play a deciding Game 7. He, however, showed his mettle.
Take the score of their last game, if an argument is needed for his talent: in Game 6, an elimination game, on the road in front of an extremely rowdy, noisy, supportive home-team crowd and playing an aggressive, urgent, resilient team (with an elite goalie at the other end), Dustin Tokarski faced 32 shots and managed to save 31, to keep the game to a one-goal shutout loss. Had he not performed in such an outstanding manner, the loss would easily have been a much more painful score.
That was all Tokarski.
On the other hand, with a year on his contract, Budaj is still very much a part of the organization. He has played admirably for the Canadiens as well. His record at the Boston Bruins‘ TD Garden is flawless, and he’s instilled confidence with his performances in nets against other teams every time he has played.
There’s no question, the Habs have some important discussions to hold in the coming months before pre-season begins.
However, having made headlines not just at home, but throughout the league during the Eastern Conference Finals, Tokarski’s name seems to be shining a little brighter, written a little more boldly and spoken a lot more loudly than expected, leading me to believe this organization has no intentions of just throwing him back to the Hamilton Bulldogs for the long-term.
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has made some smart acquisitions this season, and already, Tokarski has inked a two-year extension with the organization (first year two-way, second year NHL only). Bergevin is likely to look at the big picture, and at the performances Tokarski has turned in for the club.
But something tells me we have not seen the last of Dustin Tokarski wearing the CH on his chest. If past history is any indication, he will be rewarded by a front office which seems to take some risks, but with uncanny perception as to the rewards.