BOSTON – The Bruins would be best off not thinking too deeply about where they’d be if they hadn’t signed Jaroslav Halak back on July 1.
The goaltender they signed to be a backup has been much more than that this season, and sits second in the entire NHL in goals against average (1.77 goals against average) and save percentage (.945) this season. Halak also consistently chipped away at Tuukka Rask’s playing time after starting the season as the back-up, and stepped up in a major way to stop 77-of-79 shots this weekend in back-to-back wins over Toronto and Vegas as Rask stepped away for a personal leave of absence.
Halak stopped 37-of-38 shots against the Golden Knights in Sunday’s 4-1 win over Vegas, and was equal to the task as the Golden Knights got some pretty good chances against him with redirections and action in close to the net. When it’s all said and done, Halak is 6-1-2 in 11 games for the Bruins thus far this season and has really only had the one bad game in the blowout loss to the Canucks.
Otherwise he’s been way better than the expectations and has given the Bruins the kind of steady, sometimes spectacular goaltending they’ve missed at the start of the last few regular seasons as Rask struggled.
“We’ve seen it from day one. We knew he was a good goaltender. I couldn’t sit here and say he’d be leading the league in save percentage, goals against, or whatever he is, first or second. We knew he’d be solid. He’s certainly exceeded expectations, and it’s what required right now,” said Bruce Cassidy. “He’s getting lots of starts, guys are confident in front of him and we’re starting to understand how he is.
“He stops a lot of pucks. There are pucks laying there that we’ve got to clear, so we’re starting to get that. Hey, converge the slot, get it out of there, get going and so how he plays the puck we’re reading off better each game. I’m happy for him. He’s a hard-working guy, and he’s had good success in this league. It’s required for him right now, and he’s giving it to us."
The Bruins are expected to meet with Rask on Monday and he may rejoin the team as shortly as Tuesday prior to a road trip out West. So Halak may be able to get some rest shortly as the B’s resume their planned tandem for this season, and perhaps Rask will even begin to push back if he’s been able to adequately resolve his personal matters.
For now, though, Halak is in the middle of a hot streak that can’t possibly extend for the entire regular season, but the B’s and the goalie will ride it out for as long as it lasts.
“We knew we had to play better after the Vancouver game and you know, [Saturday], Toronto, they have a good team,” said Halak. “They traveled in and they tried to win in the first period and we were able to just kind of get out of the period and, like you said, to control our second and third and we played a great game. And then [on Sunday] we did the same thing.”
As Cassidy said after the game, “Just keep it going, Jaro.”
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