By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Jaroslav Halak is 35 years old. He’s been in the NHL for 14 years. He’s been involved in a goaltending controversy in Montreal, of all places, and he’s played in multiple Olympic Games. He’s seen and been through a lot.READ MORE: 9 Injured At Back Bay MBTA Station After Escalator Malfunction
But he has never had a day quite like Saturday.
The veteran netminder learned — along with his teammates — that starting goaltender Tuukka Rask was out. Not for one game, not for a week. Out for the remainder of the playoffs.
In a matter of hours, Halak had to get himself prepared to start Satruday’s 12 p.m. game while also conceptualizing the work that lies ahead of him on what is expected to be a long playoff run.
While the second part of that equation remains a much larger task, Halak more or less aced the first part, stopping 29 of 30 shots faced while helping the Bruins to a 3-1 win over the Hurricanes to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series.
“It is a bit of a shocker at first,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said after the victory. “It’s your starting goaltender. He’s a terrific goaltender. But again, Jaro we faith in, so it’s a pretty simple mindset to get in. He’s our guy. … That’s it.”
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said that the team found out about Rask’s decision just before boarding the buses from the team hotel to the arena. That didn’t give anyone much time to adjust to life without the starting goaltender, but Cassidy said it was a situation his team was prepared to handle.
“Well the [pregame] message, we’re not going to change the way we play, no matter who’s in net,” Cassidy said. “We’ve proven that with Jaro here the last two years and now the playoffs. We know he’s a capable goaltender. The only issue for us is Jaro hasn’t played a lot. So you want to make sure you allow a reasonable time to get back into game mode. So that was the message. Jaro’s a popular guy in the room. Guys want to play for him. And the next part of that message is it’s playoff hockey. We can’t be worried about who’s not in the lineup. We worry about who’s in the lineup. … The guys that are in there, this is how we’re going to play. And it worked out for us.”
Halak, of course, is not the standard “backup” goaltender. He started 29 of the Bruins’ 70 regular-season games this season, a year after starting 37 games (out of 82) for Boston. That regularity in appearances helped the Bruins feel a bit more normal on Saturday, even as they played without Rask and top scorer David Pastrnak.
“Well we always had high confidence in both of our goalies. That hasn’t changed,” Chara said. “I think that we all, the experiences Jaro has from playoffs, he’s a proven goalie and he’s done it a number of times and showed a number of times that he can handle these situations. So we always rely on our goalies throughout our seasons, and that hasn’t changed.”
Halak didn’t have the luxury of slowly settling in to the role, either, as he was peppered with shots right from the jump, after Brad Marchand was sent to the penalty box in the opening seconds of the game. Carolina had four shots on goal in the first two minutes of the game, getting two more on net in the following two minutes, as well. By the end of the opening period, the Hurricanes had sent 15 shots on net; Halak stopped them all.
Halak said after the game that his only discomfort came from the heat and humidity inside Scotiabank Arena. Other than that, he was able to play the game the Bruins hoped to get out of him.READ MORE: First Afghan Refugees Arrive In Massachusetts
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) August 15, 2020
There were, though, some breaks along the way. Carolina rung the post on two separate occasions, and the puck did appear to cross the line after a scramble in the first period. On that one, though, there was no clear shot of the puck crossing the goal line, so the score held at 0-0.
The one goal Halak gave up was decidedly not a break in his favor, as his attempted clear was picked out of mid-air by Nino Niederreiter and quickly deposited into the vacated net. That gaffe cut Boston’s lead to just one goal with 13:30 left in regulation.
Despite the playoff stakes, the Bruins maintained confidence after that mistake.
“Right away on the bench, Brad Marchand stands up, ‘Hey, that’s not gonna hurt us. We’re fine. We’re playing well.’ And that’s true. The whole bench was like that,” Cassidy said. “There was no collective letdown, like, oh boy, here it comes. We knew we were playing our game from the second period on. … Our guys know when we have our game, when we’re playing Bruins hockey. So that wasn’t gonna deter us from keep on going forward.”
“Mistakes, they happen,” Halak said. “We try to make the right play out there. I saw an opening, I tried to shoot it out, and the guy caught it. So it ended up in our net. We were still up. I know I gave them a little bit of life. I think we responded the right way and we kept playing our game until the end.”
Whether or not Halak can backstop the Bruins to the lengthy playoff run that the Presidents’ Trophy winners should be embarking on this summer is a question that cannot be answered in one day. All that could have been accomplished on Saturday was a solid first step, one that can help stabilize the Bruins as they adjust to life without the only postseason goaltender they’ve had for the past seven years.
The first step was a big one, and the Bruins made it as clear as possible that despite losing their Vezina finalist netminder, they remain confident and focused on the task at hand.
“Jaro’s a popular guy, and [his teammates] know his abilities,” Cassidy said. “Now it could be his turn to have a nice run. I think it’s in the back of everyone’s mind, if we want to reach our goals, we’re going to need a goaltender in there to help us get there. No team gets there without solid goaltending. So maybe this is Jaro’s year. Tuukka had a great run last year. So that’s certainly something we can rally around.”MORE NEWS: Gas Leak In Lawrence Forces More Than 100 People Out Of Nearby Buildings