Jaroslav Halak was ready for this opportunity.
For most of his NHL career, Halak has been part of a strong duo in goal — whether it was his days in Montreal with Carey Price, his stay in St. Louis with Brian Elliott, or his time on Long Island with Thomas Greiss.
Since he joined the Bruins in the summer of 2018, Halak has handled his fair share of the workload. Since 2018-19, he’s started 66 of the Bruins’ 152 games. The effort to give both goalies rest has worked as Boston came within a win of the Stanley Cup last season and finished this shortened regular season with the best points percentage (.714) in the NHL and the Presidents’ Trophy.
Rask and Halak have also combined for the second-best 5-on-5 save percentage (.932) over the last two seasons and earned the 2019-20 Williams M. Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed.
With Rask opting out in the First Round, it’s Halak’s net going forward, with Dan Vladar, who’s yet to play an NHL game, serving as backup.
And since Halak took over as the No. 1, the Bruins have not lost a game (4-0) and he’s posted a .932 even strength save percentage. Those four playoffs wins, by the way, are equal to the total he’d earned since his memorable run during the 2010 postseason with Montreal.
Halak’s last win came Sunday in Game 1, a 3-2 victory over the Lightning. Halak kept Tampa off the scoreboard until midway through the third period, and was busy in the second period with 18 saves.
“He’s an unbelievable goaltender,” David Pastrnak said of Halak. “A lot of experience, he’s been in the league for a while. [He’s a] great guy and works really hard every single practice. He’s been really good for us and we just have to help him out a little more too.”
Head coach Bruce Cassidy lauded Halak’s effort in the middle period, describing his performance as “dominant.”
As the Bruins prepared for Game 2 Tuesday night (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream), Cassidy also has to think ahead. Game 3 will be Wednesday night and there will be the question of whether the 34-year-old Halak makes starts on back-to-back days or the inexperienced rookie gets an opportunity. How the series looks after Tuesday night could answer that question.
“Let’s get through the game [Tuesday] night, might also be a situation where we are in the series,” Cassidy said on Monday. “Sometimes you’ve got to look at your lineup and say, ‘OK, do we have the luxury of making any changes, how it will affect us, how does it affect the group throwing another guy in there?’
“I think our guys play hard no matter who’s in there. They said it before with Vladar, he competes in practice every day, just signed a new deal, happy for him. But at the end of the day, I think it’ll be a decision we probably make Wednesday morning after we sort through the game on Tuesday and see where Jaro is at physically, and have Danny prepared Tuesday night.”
Like other teams this postseason who have a 1A/1B goalie set up, the Bruins have long been fine with whomever is in goal. Halak has earned that with his play since coming to Boston and four wins after taking over for Rask will only increase that confidence as they look to make another deep playoff run.
No. 2 Lightning vs. No. 4 Bruins (BOS leads 1-0)
Game 1: Bruins 3, Lightning 2 (recap)
Game 2: Tuesday, Aug. 25, 7 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 3: Wednesday, Aug. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Friday, Aug. 28, 7:30 p.m. ET – USA Network
*Game 5: Sunday, Aug. 30 – TBD
*Game 6: Tuesday, Sept. 1 – TBD
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 2 – TBD