MONTREAL – If many Canadiens fans weren’t familiar with Dustin Tokarski a few months ago, it’s safe to say they are now.
After Carey Price was injured in Game 1 of the series against the New York Rangers, the general consensus was that the Canadiens’ chances of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals were slim.
It was at that very moment that Tokarski made his presence felt, taking on the incredible challenge that came with filling in for Price, who was coming off the best season of his career both with the Canadiens and on the international stage, guiding Team Canada to a gold medal in Sochi in late February.
The somewhat controversial decision to go with Tokarski ahead of veteran backup Peter Budaj paid dividends in the end, affording Michel Therrien’s troops the opportunity to keep their playoff hopes alive as the young netminder proved his worth against the Rangers.
While the Canadiens failed to down the Blueshirts, who moved on to play the Los Angeles Kings in the Finals, Tokarski had no reason to be down on himself after posting a 2.60 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage in five games against New York.
The 25-year-old Watson, SK native described the opportunity to compete in the postseason for the first time as a very enriching experience.
“It was an incredible experience and a huge opportunity,” offered Tokarski. “It was amazing to get the chance to play in the playoffs, and a real honor to play for this team.”
If we recall Tokarski’s standout efforts in the playoffs, we mustn’t overlook his body of work during the regular season. While the Canadiens didn’t call on him often, Tokarski still managed to make his mark by picking up two wins in two starts, including a shutout against the Sabres. While with the Bulldogs, Tokarski posted a 2.22 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage, which, interestingly enough, matched that of Price in 2013-14. The three-time All-Star didn’t hesitate to praise Tokarski once the season came to a close.
“He did good work,” affirmed Price. “It’s one of the toughest situations a guy can find himself in and he really excelled. He showed everybody the reason why he’s been a winner at every level. He’s a great guy and I have to tip my cap to him. He did excellent work.”
His playoff performances also impressed Montrealers, many of whom began wondering what the future had in store for Tokarski with the CH. Will he serve as Price’s backup next season? Will he head back down to Hamilton? Tokarski, however, isn’t thinking about that too much right now, but he does admit that Montreal is where he’d like to be in 2014-15.
“It’s pretty easy to answer that question. I’d love to play in Montreal, but I’m going to focus on what I can control before next season,” confided Tokarski. “I’ll enjoy my summer, work hard, and then I’ll see what next year will bring. I’m not looking that far ahead right now. I’m living in the moment.”
If the Rangers put an end to the Canadiens’ dream of claiming their first Stanley Cup title since 1993, they certainly didn’t rattle Tokarski, who moved closer and closer to achieving his ultimate goal of playing in the NHL.
“We didn’t come out on top, but I learned a lot, and I’m excited to see what the future will bring,” mentioned Tokarski. “The goal is to play in the NHL. I was lucky to get the call during the season, and you have to be ready to go at any moment. It was a little bit crazy. At that time, I never thought I’d be suiting up for the Canadiens in the playoffs. It was a great experience.”
One that ensured Dustin Tokarksi will be a household name no matter where he plays come October.
Élise Robillard is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.