Some goaltenders earn their fame with championships. Some rack up individual awards. A select few, like Jaroslav Halak, burn themselves into our memories with unforgettable stretches of play. And Halak never made more headlines than during the 2010 playoffs, when he was a giant slayer for the Montreal Canadiens.
At the start of 2009-10, the idea of Halak even starting for the Habs, let alone carrying them to multiple monster upsets, seemed absurd. The Carey Price era had begun. But Price, 22 and still growing up, slumped horribly down the stretch, and Halak, the 271st pick of the 2003 draft, started 13 of the Habs’ final 15 games. They squeaked into the playoffs as a bottom seed and drew the powerhouse Washington Capitals, who had set a team record with 121 points, tied for the sixth-highest total in NHL history. The Caps jumped out to a 3-1 series lead through four games. It looked like the expected result for a stacked team armed with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green. Then a switch flipped in the 24-year-old Halak.
He stopped 37 shots on the road in a 2-1 win, then 53 saves in a 4-1 win, then 41 saves in a 2-1 clincher as the Habs won three straight games to shock the Capitals. As an encore, Halak remained on fire in Round 2 against the defending Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins, helping Montreal pull off another stunning seven-game upset. Halak and the Habs eventually lost their magic against Philadelphia in Round 3.
Halak before and after the spring of 2010 was often good but never great. His best finish in Vezina Trophy voting was sixth with the St. Louis Blues in 2011-12. But he’s consistently dotted his career with pixie dust in clutch situations. His .924 playoff save percentage ranks 12th all-time. Most teams would kill for a goalie who saves his best work for the post-season, and that’s been Halak for most of his career.
Born: May 13, 1985, Bratislava, Czech.
NHL Career: 2006-present
Teams: Mtl, StL, Wsh, NYI, Bos
Stats: 232-150-48, 2.50 GAA, .916 SP, 42 SO
DID YOU KNOW?
At 5-foot-11, Halak is tied as the shortest active NHL goalie. Over the past 10 years, Halak has more victories than any other goaltender under six feet. He also set the Islanders’ single-season wins record with 38 in 2014-15.