If the Boston Bruins are going to win the Stanley Cup in 2020, they'll have to do it without starting goaltender Tuukka Rask.
The Bruins netminder has decided to opt out of the league's return to play. He had been with the team since it arrived in the Toronto bubble and played in two of the three round robin games and the first two matchups of Boston's first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
So, who's the next man up for the B's?
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Halak is the Bruins' new No. 1 goalie, and he's no stranger to the playoffs. Game 3 against the Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon will be his 32nd career postseason appearance and 30th start.
"Jaro is a pro, and I think over the last two years we've been a hockey club that's relied on everybody and Jaro’s been a big part of that," Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Saturday. "You know we've split starts; we've rarely played players back to back. Jaro is mentally and physically ready to step in and assume the role and obviously we hope that he rises to that challenge.
"But from the standpoint of knowing that there was always going to be a back to back and then we had another one thrown in there, so I think Jaro was well prepared and has an understanding that it was going to take probably in most situations and you're seeing a lot of cases around the League where both goaltenders have been used anyway, even in the initial rounds."
Halak has a 13-16 record with a .922 save percentage and a 2.45 goals against average in his playoff career. The 35-year-old veteran's best postseason moments so far came with the Montreal Canadiens during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs when he led them to a first-round upset over the No. 1 seeded Washington Capitals and then a second-round upset against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Halak's last playoff series was with the New York Islanders in 2015. He posted a .926 save percentage and a 2.30 GAA in New York's first round defeat to the Capitals in seven games.
Should Bruins fans be confident in Halak's ability to lead Boston on a deep playoff run in 2020? In short, yes.
Halak went 18-6-6 with a .919 save percentage and a 2.39 GAA during the regular season, and his strong play as Rask's backup helped the duo win the William M. Jennings Trophy as the goalies for the team that allowed the fewest goals.
The Bruins should give him plenty of help, too. The B's are a strong defensive team and didn't force their goaltenders to make a ton of saves in the regular season. Boston allowed the third-fewest shots on net, the second-fewest scoring chances and the second-fewest high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 during the regular season. Boston's deep blue line and defensive-minded forward group also make life easier for its goaltenders.
Make no mistake, though, losing Rask is a tough blow. After all, he's a finalist for the Vezina Trophy and the favorite to win the award. His playoff stats are fantastic, and he's led the B's on a few deep postseason runs.
However, the Bruins are still a top Stanley Cup contender with Halak between the pipes. He's a 13-year veteran with plenty of playoff experiences and two full seasons playing in Boston's system. The only concern is what's behind him. Daniel Vladar figures to be the backup, and he's never played in an NHL game. The 2015 third-round draft pick has 68 games of AHL experience. The other goalie with the B's in the Toronto bubble is Maxime Lagace, who has 17 games of NHL experience.
If Halak stays healthy, the Bruins should be in good shape.