Veteran Bruins netminder Jaroslav Halak has proven in his past that he’s fully capable of taking over a Stanley Cup Playoff series all by himself.
He did it back in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Montreal Canadiens when he posted a .939 save percentage against the heavily-favored Washington Capitals, a performance that included Halak posting a .978 save percentage in the final three games of the series where he stopped 131 of the 134 shots that he faced from a blistering Capitals attack.
That is otherworldly playoff goaltending at its finest.
The B’s clearly know he’s capable of rising to the challenge in the postseason, and they are seeing it right now with Halak pushed into postseason duty after Tuukka Rask opted out of the Toronto bubble. Halak stopped 35 of the 37 shots he faced in Boston’s 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 on Sunday night, and was at his best when the B’s needed him to be while stopping all 18 shots he faced in the second period.
"He’s an unbelievable goaltender," said David Pastrnak, of Halak. "A lot of experience, he’s been in the league for a while. [He’s a] great guy and works really hard every single practice. He’s been really good for us and we just have to help him out a little more too."
The only two chances that beat Halak in the third period were long distance Victor Hedman wrist shots that were deflected by Charlie McAvoy on the way to the net, but other than that he was brilliant against a Lightning team that generated quality chances in the middle of the game.
Halak made the save of the night in the second period when he turned away Brayden Point directly in front on a rebound chance after a scramble around the Boston net. His technique closing off the post on a Barclay Goodrow chance at the side of the net a little later in the period was equally good, and it all added up to a win for the Black and Gold.
“He was dominant in that [second] period. The other two goals, I think one went in off Charlie [McAvoy], the other one had eyes, so they certainly got a couple of fortunate ones,” said Bruce Cassidy. “But boy did [Halak] make some saves in the second where they probably deserved better. I thought their guy [Andrei Vasilevskiy] did too, made a great save on [Charlie] McAvoy and a couple others in tight, [Ondrej] Kase on a breakaway. I thought both goalies did their job. We just happened to be one save better.”
Now the numbers are coming into focus for Halak, and they are excellent all-around.
The B’s backup netminder was won four playoff games in a row, has a .936 save percentage in those games and a 1.75 goals against average in a show of goaltending where Halak has only gotten stronger as things have progressed. It remains to be seen if the 35-year-old is going to be able to maintain the current level of performance given a heavy second-round schedule that has two sets of back-to-back games scheduled over the 11-day course of the series.
But Halak has shown in the past that he can take over an entire playoff series with little more than his own brilliance, and that’s something to keep in mind. The Bruins hope they’re seeing that again while bringing a whole lot more to the table than his old Habs team could when he was standing on his head in the playoffs 10 years ago.