Dustin Tokarski has been an intriguing story throughout the Eastern Conference final and that story will be a lot more compelling if he can somehow lead the Canadiens to a victory at Madison Square Garden in Game 6. But to suggest he’s taking Henrik Lundqvist to school? Preposterous.
The only downside to the Dustin Tokarski story at this point, at least from a personal financial perspective, is that it’s not happening during the regular season.
You see, Tokarski is on a two-way deal, which is really good if you’re playing in the NHL during the regular season, not so good if you’re playing in the playoffs when players do not pick up paychecks. Tokarski’s NHL salary is the league minimum $575,000 and he spent 23 of the 195 days of this season on the Canadiens roster. That means he picked up $67,821 in NHL salary, but spent the bulk of the season pulling down $80,000 in the minors. The good news for Tokarski is that if he plays in the minors next season, his salary goes up to $135,000 and in 2015-16 his contract becomes a one-way deal, which means he’ll make $575,000 regardless of whether he plays in the American League or the NHL.
Of course, the way he has played in the playoffs this season, there’s a chance Tokarski will be making NHL money as early as next season, either with the Canadiens or someone else. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. There’s a reason why guys such as Tokarski play in the minors for five years. It’s not that they can’t perform at the NHL level because, as Tokarski has proved, he clearly can. The problem for a lot of those guys is they can’t sustain that level of play against the best players in the world for a sustained period of time. In other words, they play like gangbusters for a couple of weeks, then basically go back to being minor leaguers.
Speaking of getting ahead of ourselves, the suggestion has been made, by those at Hockey Night in Canada and others, that after four games in the Canadiens nets, the 24-year-old is actually outplaying Henrik Lundqvist. To his credit, when asked about that very thing after Game 5, Tokarski gave the well-worn cliché about it all being about the team effort.
As much as Tokarski has been a wonderful story and one that is getting more intriguing all the time, to suggest he has outplayed Lundqvist in this series is a case of gilding the lily just a little. Actually, neither one of them has been spectacular for any sustained period of time since Game 2 when Tokarski imposed himself on the series. They have both been brilliant at times, ordinary at others and bad at others. Each has stolen a game that his team probably should have lost and each has defeated the other in overtime. Even though Lundqvist was chased out of the net in Montreal’s 7-4 win in Game 5, neither of them was particularly sharp.
At best, it’s a push. The numbers, however, indicate Lundqvist, even after his Bell Center demons came back to haunt him in Game 5, is playing better.
Since Game 2 when Tokarski entered the series, he has allowed 12 goals on 123 shots for a very ordinary .902 save percentage and 2.96 goals-against average. Lundqvist, on the other hand, has stopped 104 of 114 shots for a .912 save percentage and 2.79 GAA.
This could all change, of course, if Tokarski can channel his effort from Game 3 at Madison Square Garden and steal another victory to send it back to Game 7 at the Bell Centre. Then all the pressure would be on Lundqvist and the Rangers and given his checkered past in Montreal, Lundqvist would have to overcome a long history of sub-par play in Montreal.
But that’s a long way away. And so is the notion that Tokarski is outplaying Lundqvist.