The Montreal Canadiens were eliminated from the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs after a 1-0 loss in Game 6 against the New York Rangers. The Canadiens were considered favorites when this series started, but Carey Price's injury in Game 1 shook things up.
Michel Therrien and the coaching staff made the best of a bad situation, and Dustin Tokarski gave the Canadiens and their fans a glimmer of hope when he stepped between the pipes for the final five games.
Tokarski, 24, gave it his all, but it wasn't enough.
Heading into the playoffs, there was an extreme level of comfort with Price between the pipes. In the regular season, he went 34-20-5 with a 2.32 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage.
In February, Price led the Canadian national team to glory at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, and a gold medal was earned because the Habs' top netminder was unbeatable.
Price was great in the first round during a sweep of the Ben Bishop-less Tampa Bay Lightning, and he turned it on in the second round against the Boston Bruins. He posted back-to-back wins in Games 6 and 7 against the Bruins, and he stopped 55 of 56 shots to ensure the Canadiens would advance to the Eastern Conference Final.
When the puck dropped for Game 1 at the Bell Centre against the Rangers, some felt Price would get the Habs off to a hot start. Not only was he on a hot streak, but Henrik Lundqvist had a history of struggling in Montreal.
After the injury to Price, many expected the Habs to just roll over and die. It was assumed that Peter Budaj, the netminder lit up in the third period of Game 1, would be in the goal for the rest of the series. However, inserting Tokarski gave the Canadiens a chance to pull off an upset.
They pushed the Rangers to six games, and it was something that few thought would be possible given how well Lundqvist and New York had been playing heading into the series. Yes, the Habs were unsuccessful, but there was a chance that they could have pulled it off.
Tokarski played well when you consider the circumstances, and the team in front of him left him out to dry. Even though the Canadiens fell in Game 6, their goaltender was the only player who kicked it into high gear.
Despite a few bursts of energy, the team looked slow and lifeless for the majority of Game 6.
Where was Thomas Vanek this series? Or P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec?
The Canadiens have a number of talented players on their roster, but they didn't come to play when it mattered. Rene Bourque did, at least in Game 5, but other than that no player had a series that helped push the Habs over the edge.
Here is a quick look at how Montreal's top players performed in the third round:
The Hockey News
That was just a sampling of the Canadiens' inability to generate offense for their netminder versus the Rangers. If the aforementioned players had a better series, there is a chance the Canadiens would be playing for the Stanley Cup.
Why were the Canadiens eliminated?
Prior to making his NHL debut, Tokarski had won at every other level, so leading the Habs back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993 would have inspired some Ken Dryden-esque narratives.
In five games, Tokarski went 2-2-1 with a 2.60 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. It isn't the performance Price would have likely given, but it could have been enough.
For the next few weeks, fans will likely go through this series and say, “what if?”—and no one would blame them.
While Price's injury certainly hampered the Habs' Cup hopes, it is a shame that Tokarski's performance for most of the series was wasted. It will be interesting to see how general manager Marc Bergevin alters the roster in the summer.
The roster has a franchise defender in Subban, who will be a top priority as a restricted free agent, and a combination of young prospects and established rear guards on the back end. There are also a number of talented scoring forwards like Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Vanek, Plekanec and so on.
After coming so close, it would be a shame to see the group broken up.