The Tampa Bay Lightning have battled so much adversity as a result of injuries this season, that even the loss of starting net minder Mathieu Garon
, characterized by Steven Stamkos
as “a big blow,” didn’t seem to faze even head coach Guy Boucher.
“Just another episode,” Boucher said.
And perhaps one that occurred in the middle of a third-act twist, as the Lightning continue to unexpectedly surge up the Eastern Conference standings late in the season, sitting just four points back of division-rival Winnipeg for the eighth and final playoff spot heading into Thursday’s contest against the Capitals at the Verizon Center.
Enter Dustin Tokarski.
With one of the main characters of the team’s starring cast out of action for at least the next three weeks with a torn groin muscle, Tokarski will be counted on, in combination with veteran Dwayne Roloson
, to carry the load in net and keep the Bolts in the thick of things.
“It’s probably the best time to bring [Tokarski] up,” Boucher said. “Both goaltenders will see time in net. It’s just an open space for someone to go out and make a difference.” The goaltending tandem of Tokarski and Roloson is quite the anomaly.
Tokarski, 22, has appeared in just two NHL games throughout his career, logging a total of 44 minutes in ice time. He has shined, however, in recent weeks playing for the Lightning’s top AHL affiliate in Norfolk, where he was riding an eight-game win streak prior to Wednesday’s recall.
Roloson, on the other hand, at 42 years old, is the NHL’s oldest player who has allowed no fewer than three goals in each of his starts dating back to Nov. 17.
So, who will get the bulk of the starts in net from here on out?
“I’m going to talk to both individuals and go over a plan that we want,” Boucher added. “The situation right now is that both goaltenders will get an opportunity to fight and make a difference. You never know what day is going to be their best day.”
Tokarski is 75-56-7 in 141 career games with the Admirals from 2009-10 to present and is tied for most wins in Admirals history
It could be as soon as Thursday night, when the Lightning take on the Capitals in a tough road contest with playoff implications on the line.
Washington currently sits in ninth place in the East with 70 points, just two ahead of Tampa Bay, which is two spots behind them in the 11th position.
While a regulation win by the Lightning would certainly tie them with the Capitals in the standings, a regulation loss by division-rival Winnipeg at the hands of Vancouver, also on Thursday night, would help the Bolts close the gap in the hunt to just two points.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Bolts defenseman Brendan Mikkelson
said. “Obviously losing Gary [Garon] was a big loss for us, but we have to move on. Roli [Roloson] has been a solid competitor over the years, and Tokarski is a young kid with a lot of upside, so we’re going to put our confidence in them and trust that they’re going to do the job.”
Minutes after Garon went down just 3:54 into the opening period of Tuesday night’s contest against Ottawa, speculation spread rampantly on Twitter that General Manager Steve Yzerman would consider claiming veteran goaltender Marty Turco off waivers.
But Turco, signed by the Bruins following the injury to backup goaltender Tuukka Rask, was playing in Europe and thus had to first clear waivers. Although Yzerman expressed intentions of making a claim for the 36-year-old net minder, a technicality laid out in bylaw 12.4 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement states that players such as Turco, signed after the league’s Feb. 27 trade deadline, cannot play for any club other than the one which signed him if claimed off waivers. According to the league, the rule was adopted to prevent teams from stockpiling players.
Still, Boucher believes both goaltenders, as well as his team, will rise to the challenge.
“Every day is an opportunity to do something special,” the Lightning head coach said. “No matter how much adversity you face, there’s always a way. There’s always a way and I think our players take pride in being resilient. They’ve been tested and they’ve bounced back, so I think right now they believe, and like I’ve always said, quitting is never an option.”