Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien confirmed this morning that Dustin Tokarski will remain the Habs starting goaltender for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Carey Price was injured in Game 1 of the series when Chris Kreider crashed into the Canadiens star netminder, and Peter Budaj filled in for the third period. Therrien then made a controversial decision to start Tokarski over Budaj in Game 2.
Tokarski spent most of the season in the American Hockey League with the Hamilton Bulldogs where he made 41 appearances, compared to just two starts and a relief appearance with the Habs. The 24 year old goaltender played well in spot duty with Montreal, winning a game in Anaheim against a great Ducks team and shutting out the Buffalo Sabres.
Tokarski played well in Game 2, but the Canadiens ultimately lost 3-1 and now trail the New York Rangers 2-0 in the third round series. Dustin stopped 27 of 30 shots, allowing a pair of one timers to snipers Rick Nash and Martin St Louis as well as a shot that took a Ranger bounce off Josh Gorges leg.
Starting Tokarski may not have led to a win in Game 2, but it is the right move going forward. Though he lacks NHL experience, Tokarski does not lack big game experience. Yes, throwing him into the middle of an NHL Conference Final is an enormous step, but he has shown he can carry a team to victory on every other stage.
Tokarski won a WHL Championship and Memorial Cup in 2008, and followed that up with a World Junior Hockey gold medal in 2009 and a Calder Cup title in 2012 with the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals.
It is not just Tokarski’s winning pedigree that is impressive, it is his performance that led to those victories. He posted a 1.38 goals against average and a .944 save percentage for the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL playoffs in 2008, and was then named Memorial Cup MVP. In 2012 on his way to a Calder Cup, Tokarski posted a 1.46 GAA and a .944 SV%.
Peter Budaj on the other hand has a well earned reputation as a career backup. He can be great when used in a game here and there, but when given a chance to be a number one in the past, he hasn’t been able to handle the responsibilities.
When Price was injured earlier this season following the Olympics, Budaj was given the chance to be the Habs number one for several weeks. Prior to the Olympic break, Budaj had appeared in 15 games for Montreal and posted an impressive .927 save percentage. None of these appearances were in consecutive games, and he sometimes went weeks without playing.
Once Price was out of commission in late February, Budaj played in seven of eight Habs games, and got worse the more he played. By the time the seven game audition was over, Budaj’s SV% for the season dropped from .927 to .907. That is an incredible drop in a short span.
So with the Canadiens in a difficult situation, needing to win four of their next five games to move on, they must choose the goaltender who can carry the workload for more than one game at a time.
Tokarski can not be expected to fully replace Carey Price, but he is definitely the best option for the Montreal Canadiens with Price out for a long period of time.