Dustin Tokarski got a brief cameo with the Tampa Bay Lightning two winters ago: A grand total of 44 minutes and two goals allowed. More than two years later, he’ll make his first career NHL start Thursday night at Verizon Center against the Washington Capitals.
Tokarski, the American Hockey League wins leader, had an eight-game winning streak going with the Norfolk Admirals when he was called up to the big club Wednesday. He has proven to be a different goaltender this time around.
“Just more consistent. Better at playing the puck,” Tokarski said. “Just less movements, less holes – just a more solid goalie all the way around.”
Tokarski could be the man for the Lightning down the stretch as they try to complete an improbable playoff run. Starter Mathieu Garon’s groin injury was a serious blow, and it’s unlikely that 42-year-old Dwayne Roloson will be able to recapture the form he flashed in last year’s playoffs.
But the 22-year-old rookie is just there to help the team.
“It’s exciting,” Tokarski said of his recall. “I’m just here to support Dwayne and help this team win any way I can and if it means starting a game, then it’ll be that.”
It means starting a game against the Caps, and it’s no secret what they need to do.
“We want to make sure we get pucks on net and traffic,” center Mathieu Perreault said. “He’s going to probably a little nervous for his first start, so the more shots we get on him will be best for us and try to get some traffic on him.
Forward Keith Aucoin has the scouting report on Tokarski from seeing him plenty while with the Hershey Bears.
“He’s kind of a smaller goalie, but with quick feet, so you want to get it up as much as possible,” Aucoin said. “All goalies hate traffic, so that’s one thing. He is a little bit of a smaller goalie. When we had success, it was going upstairs on him, so hopefully we can do that.”
On the other end, Lightning coach Guy Boucher said his players can’t even subconsciously change their game in front of Tokarski.
“You don’t want them to be thinking that way, and the guys don’t. When the game starts, whoever’s in net it’s his job to stop the pucks and it’s your job to go score goals if you’re forward, or a defensive forward it’s your job to defend,” Boucher said. “It doesn’t change anything. It can’t change anything.”