MONTREAL (KMOX) — In sports, some games just mean more than others. For Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak, last night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens was one of those games. The former Canadien goalie was traded to the St. Louis Blues two summers ago after an improbable and spectacular run deep into the playoffs. Last night was his first appearance back in Montreal in front of some of the most passionate hockey fans in the world.
While Halak dealt with the natural emotions a player deals with, it was also a benchmark game for the 26 year old netminder from Slovakia. He had a great start to last season but then struggled in the middle of the year with an injury plagued team in front of him. This season he did not have a good training camp or start to the season. Brian Elliott was signed to be his back-up but began the season on fire and has challenged Halak for the number one spot all season. Halak’s season turned around with the coaching change and tonight Halak made another big statement.
This game against Montreal was big in a lot of ways. The Blues hit the midway point of the season in a tie for first place in their division. It’s the first time they have been in first place at the midway point in over 10 years. The Blues have still not turned their road game around and the Belle Center is not an easy place to play. The team question for the Blues right now is can they continue their success? Can they ride this wave and still improve on what they have done under Ken Hitchcock? And that brings it all back to Jaroslav Halak.
This was the first real pressure game he has played as a Blue. Combining where the team is in the standings with the beginning of the second half, it’s a road game and in his old building. It’s a game where he had to control his emotions in order to win, and a game where he no doubt wanted a win badly. Right now he and Elliott are playing on the same level. As Hitchcock put it, both goalies are playing good, not great. If one starts playing great, they may begin to see the lion’s share of the net more. This was a chance for Halak to make a statement. With all the distractions added into what the team needs, he put a stamp on “his” team. Halak is the goalie with a long term contract for good dollars. While dollars do not play a role in who plays on a given night, it definitely plays a role in off-season decisions. Tonight’s game was the kind of statement game that sticks with decision makers.
Was it a do or die game for Halak? Of course not. Was it a must-win? No. But was it an important game for the Blues and a chance for Halak to make a mark? Yes it is. He took advantage of it and shutout his former team. The team played another great game in front of him, but stopping Plekanec on a shothanded breakaway early in the game proved to be a crucial moment and set the tempo for the game. In the end, he was named the number one star, and the ovation after the game from the Montreal fans was special. They showed their appreciation for Halak. He skated out, raising his stick, and showed his appreciation for them. It was a big game last night in Montreal, now Blues fans wait and see where it goes from here.