Boston Bruins

By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

When Tuukka Rask stepped away on a leave of absence for personal reasons beginning last Friday, and with NHL no-gamer Daniel Vladar in town as Jaroslav Halak’s backup, the Bruins knew they were going to lean heavily on the 33-year-old Halak.

In a back-to-back scenario against a Maple Leafs squad that’s scored at will this season (even with Auston Matthews on the shelf with a shoulder ailment) and then the defending Western Conference champion Golden Knights, no less.

That was no problem at all, as Halak recorded two wins and stopped 77-of-79 shots thrown his way in a 27-hour stretch. The Bruins could not scripted a better outing from their backup-in-pay-only, even if he tried to downplay the task as a whole.

“Oh, I felt fine,” Halak said after Sunday’s win. “I got a great sleep, so why not.”

But a simple ‘fine’ would be an understatement.

Halak was consistently excellent, from a 20-save first period against the Maple Leafs on Saturday to a similar start against the Knights that required Halak to preserve an early lead despite a multitude of shots and offensive looks against from in tight. Over 40 minutes of first-period action this past weekend, Halak stopped all 35 shots thrown his way. Given the challenges opening frames have often come with for the Black and Gold this year, this was the perfect recipe for success.

It’s also what Halak has brought to the table with each and every start this season.

“Well, we’ve seen it from day one,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Halak’s success. “We knew he was a good goaltender. I couldn’t sit here and say he’d be leading the league in save percentage, goals against, or whatever he is, first or second. We knew he’d be solid. He’s certainly exceeded expectations, and it’s what required right now.”

Perhaps what’s most important for Halak and the B’s, though, is the communication level between the first-year Bruin and the defense, as they’re obviously learning when and where they need to support the 5-foot-11 goaltender and vice versa.

“He’s getting lots of starts, guys are confident in front of him, we’re starting to understand how he is,” Cassidy noted. “There’s a lot of – he stops a lot of pucks. There’s pucks laying there that we’ve got to clear, so we’re starting to get that; ‘Hey, converge the slot, get it out of there, get going,’ so how he plays the puck we’re reading off better each game. I’m happy for him. He’s a hardworking guy , and he’s had good success in this league, and it’s required for him right now, and he’s giving it to us.”

“We knew we had to play better after the Vancouver game,” Halak acknowledged. “[Saturday against] Toronto, they have a good team. They traveled in and they tried to win in the first period and we were able to just kind of get out of the period and control our second and third and we played a great game. And then [Sunday] we did the same thing.”

The hot weekend also did wonders for Halak’s already-absurd numbers.

With the 77-save weekend, Halak saw his season save percentage bump from .936 to .945 (second-best in the league), while his goals against averaged dipped from 1.96 to 1.77 (also the second-best mark among NHL netminders).

And even with Rask expected to return to the team as early as Tuesday, Halak’s otherworldly play has not put him in any sort of dangerous of losing starts, leaving Cassidy with a simple message for the veteran netminder.

“Just keep on going, Jaro,” said Cassidy.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has also been a voting member of the Boston Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.