Tuukka Rask confirmed he’s fresh for the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs after playing 46 games in the regular season, his fewest appearances since the 2011-12 season.
But guess what, Jaroslav Halak is equally fresh and ready should the Bruins need help getting past the Toronto Maple Leafs and beyond after playing just 40 games this season. The best-of-7 series with Toronto starts Thursday at TD Garden.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Halak told WEEI.com this week. “I mean last season I played 50-whatever games, a little less this year. But I feel great and I’m pretty sure Tuuks feels the same way.”
Halak played 54 games behind the New York Islanders’ pre-Barry Trotz clown show defense. They allowed 3.57 goals per game and Halak still managed a respectable .908 save percentage.
Over the summer Halak became an unrestricted free agent and many expected him to go somewhere he could be a No. 1. Instead he signed with the Bruins, who could promise him playing time, but not more than Rask unless thing really went off the rails.
The split between Halak and Rask came closer to 50/50 than many expected, and Halak thrived with a .922 save percentage and 14.37 goals saved above replacement rate. The Bruins’ bet was that playing behind a stronger defense would juice Halak’s numbers. General manager Don Sweeney and his staff were right.
“I don’t think we give up many odd-man rushes, as far as 2-on-1s, 3-on-2s. I think guys are really responsible as far as third man high and not getting caught down low and chasing the guys. So I think that’s been a big part of our game,” Halak said.
The Bruins had to lean on Halak earlier in the season than expected when Rask took a leave of absence to attend to a personal matter in November. That left Halak to play both halves of a back-to-back against Toronto and Vegas. He stopped 77 of 79 shots that weekend in two victories and from there coach Bruce Cassidy knew he had two high-caliber goaltenders he could trust.
“Well I’d say I had confidence in him without ever seeing him play in a Bruins uniform, for one. I mean his resume speaks for itself, he’s been in the league, had success,” Cassidy said. “[But then] I think it was early in the year, we had some D-men down, there was a weekend he played, I think it was Toronto and Vegas, where he gave up a goal each game. We were up around 35-40 shots. We knew we weren’t going to be clean coming out of our end because we put some kids in there, just who they were at the time, we had to make sure we were defending well, plays that weren’t executed well. I think that weekend, to the team, he really proved that he could do it, do it back-to-back, handle those type of games.”
Rask starts Game 1 on Thursday against the Maple Leafs. But playoff series usually unfold at a tumultuous clip and there’s no telling what the Bruins might have to do to survive, maybe even considering a change in goaltender.
If Cassidy has to go that route, Halak will be ready the way he was the past six months.
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