As it turned, Boston Bruins rookie goaltender Dan Vladar was exactly what the struggling hockey club needed.
The 23-year-old netminder was brilliant in his first career NHL start while stopping 34 shots, including a dazzling stick save on what looked like a sure goal for Penguins forward Colton Sceviour at the backdoor with the entire net to shoot at.
“Once he did that, I knew he was locked in,” said Trent Frederic of his teammate with the P-Bruins last season. “We knew we had to get the win for him. He’s really worked hard up to this point.”
I find your lack of faith in Darth Vladar disturbing https://t.co/oOrRVu8lgr
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) March 16, 2021
Clearly it was a big moment for Vladar, who waited five long years for this first start after getting one largely unsatisfying mop-up appearance during last summer’s playoff bubble in Toronto. Afterward Vladar was a breath of fresh air talking about the NHL moment he worked for while paying his dues in the minor leagues over the last five seasons.
“I’m just the happiest kid in the world right now,” said Vladar, a former third round pick in the stacked 2015 NHL Draft class. “It was always the dream to play in the NHL. I got an opportunity and I won. There hasn’t been a better day for me hockey-wise.
“Today was a game when I just waited four-and-a-half years. It’s been a while. I’m just so happy that we won. All the hard work I’ve done kind of paid off. Obviously, this is not, hopefully, my final, final game in the NHL. If I ever get an opportunity to play again, I’ll try to do my best as always.”
The affable netminder had an even better answer when he was asked what he’s going to do with the game puck from his first career NHL win.
“I’m probably going to sleep with [the puck] tonight,” said Vladar, who actually pulled a no-no in the B’s dressing room when he pulled out his cell phone postgame to excitedly talk to his girlfriend and then his parents about his big moment. “I’m going to buy a safe so nobody can steal it from me.”
After the Bruins correctly chose Vladar for the Tuesday night start over fellow prospect Jeremy Swayman, there was nothing sleepy about his performance.
Instead Vladar miraculously stopped that one and the Bruins began to believe this was going to be their night in a 2-1 victory over the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena that snapped Pittsburgh’s six game winning streak.
The only goal that beat Vladar was the rebound follow-up of a shot from the face-off circle after a rough Jakub Zboril turnover had the Bruins scrambling in the defensive zone. Other than that, he stopped 14-of-15 shots in the first period and swallowed up all 11 shots he faced in the third period with the Penguins furiously attempting to tie up the game and salvage a point.
Instead, the mammoth 6-foot-5 Vladar looked huge between the pipes, much bigger than Tuukka Rask or Jaroslav Halak, and stood tall against everything Pittsburgh threw at him. Certainly, Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy was appreciative of the performance given how badly the team needed solid goaltending amidst offensive struggles that saw them put up just two goals in victory.
“[The paddle save] certainly gave the group confidence,” said Cassidy. “The whole bench got up. I assume it makes him feel pretty good and it gave our guys a lift. It was a critical play in the game.”
Vladar gave the Boston Bruins exactly what they needed to “stop the bleeding a little bit” and got things moving in the right direction. It’s still up in the air whether it’s Swayman or Vladar that’s the goalie of the future for the Black and Gold, but Vladar made a strong statement on Tuesday that he’s deserving of that consideration.