In 2006, the Montreal Canadiens took a 2-0 lead on the favoured Carolina Hurricanes with both games in Carolina. The Canadiens torched Hurricanes starting goaltender Martin Gerber and forced them to turn to rookie Cam Ward.
You know the rest. The Canadiens beat Ward (who played in relief) in double overtime in Game 2 and then lost the next four games, and lost the series in six games. The Hurricanes used Ward to lead them all the way to the Stanley Cup.
Now, let’s get this out of the way. I am in no way saying Tokarski will become the number one goaltender for this team and have the career Ward has had. Ward was a first round pick. Tokarski was taken in the 5th round and is 24 years old.
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What I am saying, is that it’s not unprecedented for a rookie goaltender to completely take over a series after the team couldn’t rely on their starter.
You might be thinking to yourself that Ward should have been the starting goaltender anyways. Let’s go back to 2005-2006. Ward had played in 28 games in the season but struggled. He had a 3.68 GAA and .882 save percentage.
Those aren’t inspiring numbers. By contrast, Gerber had a 2.78 GAA and .906 save percentage on the same team in more games.
Tokarski doesn’t have as much NHL experience – three games this season and 10 games overall – but has won at every level he has played at and his numbers this season were very good despite limited playing time.
But history has shown that it can happen. Obviously there are other factors in play now and in 2006. Saku Koivu was lost for the series in Game 3, Henrik Lundqvist is not Cristobal Huet and the Canadiens forward and defence need to play like they did in Game 2 – not like they did in Game 1.
The most important game of the season for the Canadiens is tonight. Win tonight, you still have a good chance to win the series. They lose, and it will take a miracle.