Goaltender Dustin Tokarski has no illusions about what his callup from the minors really is all about.
Officially, he is with the Lightning because Mathieu Garon went down with a groin tear. But with Tampa Bay's long-term situation in net unsettled, to say the least, and with Tokarski sure to get playing time as long as he stays with the team, this also is an audition.
"For sure," Tokarski said. "You've got to come up here and impress. That's what I want to do, to stick around, and for the future, too."
Tokarski, 22, has one year left on his contract, so the Lightning does not have to make a snap judgment about if he fits into its plans.
Still, if Tokarski proves competent, it opens up all kinds of options for general manager Steve Yzerman as he decides on a backup for the No. 1 goalie he will acquire over the summer.
The Lightning has seen only a small sample of Tokarski. Before his first NHL start, Thursday against the Capitals, Tokarski played 44 minutes with Tampa Bay in two mop-up outings in 2009-10.
So, yes, "this is an opportunity," coach Guy Boucher said. Still, he wants Tokarski's focus narrow:
"He's just got to come in and win games and stop pucks. The rest he doesn't control."
Tokarski played well in the 3-2 overtime loss at Washington, making 29 saves but allowing what he said was a soft goal through his legs that tied the score with 3:58 left in regulation.
Tokarski, though, was dealing with a painful full-body cramp. Would he have made the save otherwise?
Not important, defenseman Mike Commodore said. "He was excellent. He battled. When pucks hit him, there were no rebounds. He played great."
Tokarski has done that at every level. He led Spokane of the junior Western league to the 2008 Memorial Cup, the Canadian Hockey League championship, and Canada to gold at the 2009 world junior championship.
When Tokarski was called up Wednesday from AHL Norfolk, he was 27-11-0 with a 2.34 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage but on an 8-0-0 run with a 1.75 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.
"He's very calm (in the net)," said Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who played for Sweden against Canada in the 2009 world junior title game. "He was one of the big reasons they won. I had a couple of chances against him, and he came up big."
Improvements have come tracking the puck, controlling rebounds and better using his hands and stick more on low shots, Tampa Bay goaltenders coach Frantz Jean said. And because Tokarski is "so strong technically, he doesn't need to move around as much."
"My game is good," Tokarski said. "I'm more consistent and better playing the puck; less movements, less holes, a more solid goalie all the way around."
In that sense, his callup happened at the right time.
"He's playing the best he has in three years of pro hockey," Jean said. "He's ready. He's always worked hard and paid attention to the details. It's an opportunity for him to come to the big leagues, and let's see where he is."
. up next
Lightning vs. Hurricanes
When/where: 7; Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa
TV/radio: Sun Sports; 970-AM
Key stats: Lightning RW Teddy Purcell has seven goals, 15 assists in an 11-game points streak, one off the league's season high. … Carolina's 25 road points (8-14-9) are tied for fewest in the Eastern Conference. … Carolina this season is 0-6 in shootouts, the only team without a win. … Tampa Bay's power play is 5-for-17 (29.4 percent) vs. Carolina this season.