His reliability at the start of the year gave the Boston Bruins a much-needed lift as they navigated through a stretch of injuries and inconsistencies. But the ebbs and flows caught up to Jaroslav Halak once the injured players healed from their ailments.
The journeyman goalie entered Sunday’s matinee against the Colorado Avalanche looking for his first victory since Jan. 3. Blown leads against the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets prevented Halak from breaking his skid during his last two starts.
Bruce Cassidy discussed Halak’s rough patch during his pregame media availability on Sunday. Yet, the third-year Bruins coach also acknowledged a step in the right direction after Halak’s effort at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night.
“He’s having trouble winning. It’s a combination of his play and our play in front of him. Did we score enough for him? I thought in New York we did. He made some great saves in overtime and he gave us a chance in the shootout, but, unfortunately, we didn’t give him the win,” Cassidy said. “Jaro hasn’t been as sharp compared to the start of the year, but we have to do our part to make sure we play well in front of him.”
There might have been a goal or two Halak wanted back against the Rangers. But he gave his team a chance to redeem themselves with a handful of big-time saves in overtime before the nine-round shootout loss.
Halak was sharp in spurts in his previous start. He stayed dialed-in on Sunday against an Avs team that carried a 12-game TD Garden win streak.
The 33-year-old did his part in giving the Bruins a chance to beat the Avs on Causeway Street for the first time since March 30, 1998. Brad Marchand capped off Halak’s first win — and best performance in over a month — with his overtime clincher.
“Tonight was one of those games that we kept it tight and they kept it tight,” Halak said following his 35-save outing. “We got some good looks on their goalie and we got a 5-on-3 [power play] but we just couldn’t capitalize. But I’m just glad we got the win. It was a needed point for us and the standings in our division [is] tight and it’s going to be a race until the end, so we need to keep getting points right now.”
The Bruins moved into third place with the win, leapfrogging Halak’s former team in Montreal. His second period save on Nathan MacKinnon’s breakaway attempt — as he sprung out of the penalty box shortly after the Bruins’ 5-on-3 chance expired — provided a timely moment and a much-needed confidence boost, thus giving Boston a chance to win.
“I was just trying to take away the 5-hole, and I think the puck was bouncing on him,” Halak said about his save on MacKinnon. “So he didn’t get enough on a puck and I’m just glad it stayed out [of the net].”
The roles have reversed since the start of the season. Tuukka Rask bounced back from his struggles and reclaimed his spot as the team’s top goaltender. Halak gave Rask a run for his money during the first two months, but his slump put him back into the No. 2 position.
The Bruins have 26 games left in the regular season. Rask will likely get the bulk of those starts, but Boston’s confidence in Halak returned following his last two starts. Halak, himself, is slowly regaining his own confidence and has another win to show for it.
“Goalies are judged on their wins and losses, right?” Cassidy said about Halak postgame. “When you don’t have one for a while — and he can only answer this — but I assume it can get in your own head a little bit sometimes. You start questioning every goal that comes in, but tonight he was valuable for us.”
“You know the old saying ‘you’re only as good as your last game.'” Halak added. “It feels good tonight. We’ll enjoy it and then get back at it Tuesday.”
Halak likely won’t be back at it until the Bruins leave for the west coast. Pencil Rask in for Tuesday’s start in a Winter Classic rematch against the red-hot Blackhawks.
The Bruins need both goalies to be on their A-game during the home stretch. It will only benefit them in the long run.
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