By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Tuukka Rask’s decision to opt out of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs has made Jaroslav Halak the man in the Boston net.
And the 35-year-old played the part almost perfectly on Saturday afternoon, stopping 29-of-30 shots in a 3-1 final, giving the Bruins a 2-1 series lead over the Hurricanes in the opening-round showdown.
Halak’s first game action in nearly two weeks started with a bang, too, as the B’s were sent to the penalty kill just 12 seconds into the game on a Brad Marchand penalty that should’ve stunned anybody with a brain. But that penalty kill may have been the best thing to happen to Halak after almost two full weeks off, with the Hurricanes forcing him to scramble all around his crease and prevent the Bruins from falling into an 0-1 hole just moments into action.
It was the start of what finished as a 15-save period from Halak, and with the Bruins and ‘Canes scoreless through 20.
But the Bruins didn’t waste much time rewarding Halak for his strong opening period, and got on the board with a Charlie Coyle bloop-single power-play bat through Petr Mrazek just 14 seconds into the second period.
Coyle’s goal continued the Black and Gold’s power-play heater after beginning the postseason with 14 straight misses, and it served as the game’s lone tally through 40 minutes of back-and-forth action.
On a third-period kill, Coyle and Sean Kuraly got things going for the shorthanded Bruins, and it was Kuraly who tipped a a Coyle shot through Mrazek, giving Boston a rare two-goal edge with 18:44 remaining in the game.
But the B’s next penalty kill went in the complete opposite direction on a Halak miscue.
Corralling the puck behind his net, Halak attempted a Hail Mary clearing attempt to kill some time, but was intercepted by Nino Niederreiter for an easy catch-and-release into Boston’s cage for Carolina’s first goal of the afternoon.
Brutal. (Actually, the only thing that was more brutal than that goal was the penalty that created it all, with Anders Bjork whistled for an offensive-zone trip — and his third minor of the game — after about five straight shifts of pure domination following the Kuraly shorthanded goal.)
But Halak and the team defense in front of Halak tightened up from there, and allowed just two more Hurricane shots on goal before Marchand sealed the deal with an empty-net tally to give Boston a 3-1 victory.
This was about as good a performance as you could have asked for out of Halak. Especially on relatively short notice, with Rask’s opt out becoming official shortly after 10:00 a.m. on Saturday.
David Pastrnak missed his second straight game with that “unfit to participate” designation, while the Bruins made three changes to their lineup; Connor Clifton stepped in for Jeremy Lauzon on the backend, while Par Lindholm and Jack Studnicka jumped into action for Karson Kuhlman and Nick Ritchie.
The Bruins and Hurricanes will have an 8 p.m. puck drop for Monday’s Game 4.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. 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.