Jaroslav Halak continues trend of goalies bailing out Bruins

Matt Kalman
October 06, 2019 - 12:21 am

Anything Tuukka can do, Halak can do better?

If you’re old enough, you know the tune to sing that phrase to.

Make no mistake, Tuukka Rask reestablished himself as the Bruins’ No. 1 goaltender last season, carrying the load down the stretch of the regular season and then posting a .934 save percentage during the Bruins’ run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Jaroslav Halak never got off the bench in the postseason, but his performance during the regular season (.922 save percentage, 14.37 goals saved above average in 40 games) played a huge role in Rask being so strong in the playoffs. Had something happened to Rask, the Bruins wouldn’t have thought twice about inserting Halak and expecting similar postseason results.

And so it goes with this two-headed goaltending monster general manager Don Sweeney assembled, as Halak produced a 35-save shutout in a 1-0 win at Arizona on Saturday two night after Rask had 28 saves in a 2-1 season-opening win at Dallas.

Remember what coach Bruce Cassidy said late in training camp when he was asked if he had any concerns about his goaltending?

“So no, right now I don’t have worries. You know how this game is, it could change in a hurry. But they are two established guys,” he said. “I think we feel that’s an area of our game that’s going to be rock solid. And other parts of our game we’ll work on to pick up. But I think we’re going to get good goaltending every night. I said that last year, I thought we had the best tandem in the National Hockey League. I’ll say that again this year.”

Halak had just completed five periods of preseason play during which he surrendered just one goal. It seems like the 34-year-old, playing in the second year of a two-year deal he signed July 1, 2018, has found a home with the Bruins and might actually be in the mix for a contract extension before even fellow future unrestricted free agents Torey Krug and Charlie Coyle.

While the Bruins were being outshot 35-25 and out-attempted 62-57 Saturday, Halak was sending a message to the Coyotes that it’s going to take more than adding Phil Kessel to their lineup to inflate their offense (the Coyotes were 28th in scoring at 2.55 goals scored per game in 2018-19).

Kessel did his part with five shots and he and his linemates, Clayton Keller (five shots) and Derek Stepan (three), pushed Halak to the brink, but Halak never blinked. In the second period the Coyotes’ top line worked a perfect passing play that ended with a Halak right-pad save on a Keller redirect.

Later in the period, Halak had to make up for the Bruins’ first power play’s habit of giving up great shorthanded scoring chances, and the Slovak shutdown penalty-kill superhero Michael Grabner with 1:53 to go before the second break.

The Bruins goaltender saved his best for last, making 14 saves in the third period.

When the rest of a team’s game is out of sync, great goaltending doesn’t just alleviate a coach’s worries but prevents a team from tightening up or pressing. Had the Bruins lost one or both of their first two games, a possibility that would’ve been a reality without Rask and Halak playing at midseason form right from the outset of this season, they’d be headed for Tuesday night’s game in Vegas staring down a potentially disastrous road trip (especially with Colorado looming after the Golden Knights).

Instead the Bruins are able to rationalize, acknowledging they need to be better but relishing that they’re 2-0-0 on the strength of their goalies’ suffocating performances.

The game of can-you-top this is sure to continue with Rask getting back in the crease against Vegas and probably Halak starting against the Avalanche. To get even half the points available in those games the Bruins’ skaters will have to begin to match the performance of the goaltenders.