Boston Bruins backup netminder Jaroslav Halak isn’t quite on the missing persons report but we have not heard or seen the netminder since the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He appeared in 40 regular season games and took over for significant stretches. However, when the playoffs began, Halak was relegated to the backup role he was expected to handle when he signed last July while starter Tuukka Rask has played the greatest hockey of his life.
Halak was a key cog early in the season for the Bruins. He spelled the struggling Rask in October and November. Rask settled in around December and the Bruins charged through the standings.
Rask posted only a .912 save percentage but backstopped the Bruins to yet another second place finish in the stacked Atlantic Division.
The knock on Rask for years, from Bruin fans and media alike, was that he simply could not elevate his game when it mattered. Rask would always, in their minds, be a good-to-great regular season goalie who didn’t win the big games. This spring, his .942 save percentage has destroyed that narrative completely. He’s ripped games away from the opponent, including Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final, and has been the most consistent player during this run for the Bruins.
Rask, to use an overused term, has been great.
Halak broke his silence at TD Garden this morning, speaking with reporters at the annual Stanley Cup media day event. Halak agreed with the sentiment that his partner in the crease has been better than good this season. “He’s great, he’s been great for us,” said the Slovakian netminder that just two seasons ago saw time in the AHL.
“He’s just laid back,” continued Halak, “He’s a big reason why we are here.” The two netminders met back in training camp, which opened eight months ago in September. It’s been a long year, Halak admits, but having a running mate that allowed him the chance to play 40 games and play a big role during the regular season makes him feel as part of this run as anyone, even though he hasn’t played a minute during the playoffs.
“When he’s on top of his game, nothing matters to him” admitted Halak when asked what he’s learned from Rask this season. That approach from Rask is something that every goaltender in the NHL can learn from, and it certainly seems like Halak has learned from it himself.
After a tough stretch with the New York Islanders, Halak regained his form this season and at times looked like the elite goaltender he was during the 2010 playoffs with the Montreal Canadiens.
That approach has also allowed Rask to block out the noise, and turn in one of the better goaltending performances of this decade in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A big part of Rask’s continued effectiveness late into the playoffs is no doubt Halak’s performance during the regular season. The relationship between Rask and Halak, on both a personal and a professional level, has allowed the Bruins to get the best of both this season.
It may just be the reason why their goaltending has been the backbone of this latest Stanley Cup run.