Halak-it A Lot
Did someone mention a goaltending controversy in Montreal?
I didn’t think so because we all know who the number one netminder is for the Canadiens. That man is known by the name: Jaroslav Halak.
This season, there were plenty of questions as to who would be the “man” between the pipes in Montreal. Many felt, and strongly, that Carey Price would step in and steal the spotlight. Unfortunately for Price, the exact opposite happened.
Of course there is no playoff experience under his belt, but Halak had a very good regular season. He posted a record of 26-13-5 with a 2.40 goals against average and a save percentage of .924. He was also the number one netminder to represent his country during the 2010 Winter Olympic games played in Vancouver.
When the Habs offense was invisible, Halak was there to bail the boys in Le Bleu, Blanc e’ Rouge out.
Now, with six playoff games played for Montreal, Halak has appeared in five as the starter. In those five games, Halak has a record of 3-2 with a 2.77 goals against average but an outstanding .931 save percentage. He’s made 176 saves on 189 shots.
There are many words that can describe what Halak has been, not only during these playoffs but for most of this season. Inspiring, exciting, extraordinary, forcible, grand, important, vital, thrilling, remarkable, and the list can continue.
The one to use in this case is: outstanding. For that is exactly what the Slovakian netminder has been for this team.
It started early last night as the Capitals came out prepared to eliminate the Canadiens on their home ice. Unfortunately for Washington, Halak had other ideas.
Under two minutes into the game, a botched play behind the net by the Montreal defense led to an Alexander Semin scoring chance that was fought off by Halak, but with a juicy rebound left in front of the net for Brooks Laich, it seemed doom was inevitable. Halak answered the shot and ate it up, freezing the puck and the play.
Magician like save numbers one and two on the evening, with fifty-one more to follow.
With Shaone Morrison in the box on a cross-checking call, the Habs power play went to work. It only took 24 seconds for Michael Cammellari to grab a rebound off of an Andrei Markov shot and send it home, giving Montreal a 1-0 lead in the game.
Less than two minutes later, the big free agent signing from the off-season was at it again. Cammellari netted his second of the game and fifth of the playoffs on a hard slapper from outside the hash marks that beat Capitals goaltender Semyon Varlamov clean. An offensive zone face-off win led to the game winning goal, a commanding 2-0 lead, something they would hold onto for the rest of the game.
P.K. Subban, who was a game time decision insertion to the line up, added an assist on Cammellari’s second goal. Subban saw just over ten minutes of ice time, taking 14 shifts for Montreal and ended the night with a plus-one rating. A performance to note for the youngsters first NHL playoff game.
A bad bounce with under eight minutes to go in the first led to a scare for Montreal as Eric Belanger obtained the puck behind the net from Markov, who placed the puck into limbo. Belanger snuck in front, but again Halak closed the door. Something he would do to the Capitals quite often during this contest.
Halak led the Habs out of the first with a 2-0 lead as he made 18 saves in that period alone.
He added another 14 saves in the second period, which was scoreless on both ends. Peter Forsberg, err…Nicklas Backstrom, with speed, split the Canadiens defenders for a partial breakaway in on Halak. As Sam Rosen called, “save by Halak” on the backhand attempt.
Later in the second, Backstrom fed Semin for a one timer that Halak responded to with another fantastic save. Moments later, Joe Corvo was fed a sweet pass (this is said often when discussing Capitals games) which saw a quick glove hand save from Halak keep it 2-0. “Glove save, oh what a save. It was almost behind him” was the call from Rosen.
The save of the night, which sealed the fate for Montreal during this affair, came at the 7:38 mark of the second period when Alexander Ovechkin, on a power play, broke in, taking a sweet pass from Belanger, and shifted to his backhand but could not get the puck by the Habs netminder.
The third period, which saw the Capitals throw more rubber in Halak’s direction, would provide the home crowd with hair raising chills as the Habs added a goal from Maxim Lapierre early on. Lapierre blasted a shot from the right circles that smoked passedVarlamov and sent the home crowd to its feet yet again.
Halak would stop 21 of 22 during the period, but none more crediting than the stops made on a flurry of shots which started on the power play with a Mike Green dangle, pass to Mike Knuble in front who had his shot stopped from directly in front, leading to a rebound for Green to shoot, which was also stopped but a juicy rebound in front found the puck on the stick of Ovehckin who, you guessed it, was also stopped from scoring. That rebound would be directed to the corner from a sprawled Halak in his crease, eventually leading to a clear.
Eric Fehr would break the shutout, finally beating Halak at the 15:10 mark of the third period, but by that point the game was already over.
Tomas Plekanec would add an empty net goal to seal it, and the Candiens would send the home crowd to an electrifying ovation as the final buzzer sounded.
The main reason behind last nights victory was the spectacular performance between the pipes by Halak. A record breaking game which saw Halak end the night with 53 saves in regulation time; a new modern day record in the National Hockey League.
Can this momentum carry into Washington for tomorrow night’s game seven? Habs fans worldwide truly hope so.