The Washington Times - March 8, 2012, 01:25PM

Guy Boucher might be playing a shell game with his starting goaltender for Thursday night’s game, or the Tampa Bay Lightning coach really just wanted to keep it under wraps until talking with both candidates.

A groin injury to starter Mathieu Garon has endangered Tampa Bay’s dark-horse playoff chances, and now it’s up to veteran Dwayne Roloson and rookie Dustin Tokarski to salvage them.


From the way Boucher talked, it sounded like Roloson would be getting the nod against the same Washington Capitals team he swept out of the playoffs last year. But Tokarski came off the ice first at the morning skate and has the swagger of a 22-year-old riding an eight-game winning streak in the minors.

“I haven’t talked to the goalies yet. I talked to Roli yesterday and we talked about our plan for the next days. I haven’t talked to Tokarski; he just got in. I’ll talk to him around lunchtime and I’ll talk to Roli and I’ll explain the plan from then,” Boucher said Thursday morning. “I never say before I tell the players.”

Asked how he weighs his decision of whom to play, Boucher seemed to hint toward Roloson.

“Who we’re playing, circumstances, experiences and just having some time to get accustomed to things for the young guy and for the older guy to make sure he understands the situation and what’s going on,” the coach said.

But Tokarski would be an intriguing possibility. He was riding a franchise record eight-game winning streak for the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League until being called up Wednesday, putting up a 1.75 goals-against average and .927 save percentage over that streak.

“I feel good. My game is good right now,” Tokarski said. “We’ve got a good team down there that’s really pushing the pace and hopefully can continue that up here.”

Sounding a lot like Nuke LaLoosh from “Bull Durham,” the young prospect talked about just wanting to help the team win any way he could. It doesn’t hurt that he’s been thrown into a pressure-packed playoff race with Tampa Bay just four points back of the final spot in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s more exciting than anything,” Tokarski said. “You get to be a part of something that could be really good here going down the stretch here.”

Tokarski, who has made only two NHL appearances, both in relief in January 2010, might get a chance to lead the Lightning wherever they go because of Roloson’s struggles. The 42-year-old goaltender is 8-13-2 with a 3.82 GAA and .878 save percentage this season. It was Garon’s net until he got hurt Tuesday.

If Tokarski does get the start Thursday night against the Caps, all parties involved insisted not much would change.

“I think our mentality is get pucks to the net and get as many bodies in front of the net as we can,” Washington forward Keith Aucoin said. “It doesn’t matter who the goalie is.”

Mathieu Perreault pointed out that getting lots of rubber on net and traffic in front early is important to perhaps capitalize on Tokarski’s nerves. But the young goaltender isn’t worried about that.

“Yeah, there’s always nerves, but I think nerves are good. I’ve always had them and probably always will,” Tokarski said. “I think everyone just has them and plays through them. Every player has them. It’s not a big deal nerves; you’ve just got to go out and play.”

That’s what the Lightning will do in front of Tokarski whenever he gets his first NHL start. Boucher insisted his players won’t worry about coddling a more inexperienced goalie.

“You can’t change anything you’re doing in front of the goaltender. His job is to stop pucks. The defensemen’s job is to defend and the forwards’ job is to make sure they’re backchecking And they’re in the right defensive position,” Tampa Bay’s coach said. “So it makes no difference to how everybody else is playing.”

Boucher has a clear plan moving forward, even though he wasn’t willing to enunciate it Thursday morning at Verizon Center. That plan very well could include trying to keep Tokarski’s good vibes going with the big club.

And it’s a good sign for the Lightning that Tokarski shook off an injury from last summer and some early-season struggles to put his game together at the right time.

“[I’m] just more consistent. Better at playing the puck,” he said. “Just less moments, less holes: just a more solid goalie all the way around.”