By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
After a strong 29-of-30 performance in Game 3, Monday’s Game 4 was a much different story for Jaroslav Halak.
Having to wait nine minutes and 17 seconds to see his first shot on goal undoubtedly hurt him, too, as that Justin Williams shot was enough to get Carolina on the board with a 1-0 lead. The shot, while through some slight traffic, was not tipped. It was just missed by No. 41. This was an across-the-board difference from his first start of Boston’s first-round series with the Hurricanes, which saw Halak engaged off the jump thanks to a Brad Marchand penalty just 12 seconds into the game.
Then came a Jordan Martinook second-period shot that just squeaked by Halak for Carolina’s second goal of the night. Again, there didn’t seem to be much in terms of a misdirection or course-change via stick ricochet. It was just another whiff.
And they’re two tallies the veteran Halak would certainly want back, according to B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy.
“I think they’re both pucks he typically saves,” Cassidy offered after the Game 4 victory. “Both stoppable pucks, certainly the first one. Second one the guy is coming with some speed so there may be some options that Jaro has got to be careful he doesn’t come out too far and challenge, [Jordan] Martinook can really skate.”
With the Bruins in takeover mode in the third period, holding the Hurricanes without a shot on goal for the first 18 and a half minutes of the period, Halak once again surrendered a tally on the first shot thrown his way, this one from Teuvo Teravainen. (If you thought his first-period layoff was long, this one was literally twice as long. Brutal kind of wait.)
But the Bruins made sure another first-shot, first-goal of the period and light workload didn’t come back to haunt Halak, as Boston scored four third-period goals, and held down the fort for the final minute and half of a 4-3 final.
“At the end of the day, we kept playing,” said Cassidy. “You got to play through some stuff. These guys in the room know you win as a team, you lose as a team and I’m sure they wanted to pick Jaro up and eventually the puck bounced our way so hopefully get some work in tomorrow and be a little sharper in Game 5.”
What’s interesting about this is that it continued a trend that seemingly confirms that Halak, who finished with 16 saves in the winning effort, is a goaltender who does his best work when facing a ton of rubber.
Since coming to Boston in 2018, and including tonight’s contest, Halak has now had three starts where he’s faced 19 or fewer shots. He’s 1-2-0 in those games (tonight was his first victory), and has surrendered 10 goals on 57 shots (an .825 save percentage) over that span. Expand that qualifying to starts where Halak faced 22 shots or fewer and the record and save percentage improves, but not by much, at 5-4-1 and with an .878 save percentage.
His record over that same stretch when facing at least 35 shots in a game? 10-4-4 with a .941 save percentage.
I’m sure this is the case for a good number of goaltenders, but it seems especially noticeable with Halak. Why is that? It may just be what he’s most comfortable with when you consider how the Islanders straight-up murdered him with rubber during his tenure on Long Island. Or maybe it’s just about getting a strong start and into rhythm as soon as possible.
(Explaining goaltending is a step away from explaining voodoo sometimes.)
The Bruins will hope that Halak’s elimination game resume comes through on Wednesday, as the 35-year-old will enter Game 5 with a 6-2 career record and .953 save percentage in potential knockout contests dating back to 2010.
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.