Jaroslav Halak (l.) responds to his first-period gaffe by making 19 consecutive saves for the Islanders Wednesday night in their Game 1 win over the Capitals.
WASHINGTON – With a franchise record 38 regular season wins on the season, Jaroslav Halak has looked like Dr. Jekyll for the better part of the year. But for just a moment on Wednesday night, Mr. Hyde reared his ugly head.
The sequence – essentially the Isles’ lone moment of concern in their dominant Game 1 win – began when Washington dumped the puck into the Islander zone with just over a minute to play in the first period. Halak retrieved it at the edge of the trapezoid and tried to tap the puck toward Nick Leddy in the corner. But Washington’s Brooks Laich intercepted the pass and found Marcus Johansson at the right circle, who beat the retreating Halak to tie the game, 1-1, with 56 seconds left.
The Johansson score was the fourth time in the last four games that the Isles have allowed a goal in the final minute of a period, including Halak’s disastrous gaffe in Philadelphia on April 7 with just 2.1 seconds on the clock. Halak’s play with the puck has been suspect all year after allowing similar goals against the Oilers (Jan. 4), Devils (Jan. 9) and Bruins (Jan. 29).
“You’ve got to have a short memory this time of year. You’re going to win games, you’re going to lose games, you’re going to have bad shifts. It’s how you respond,” coach Jack Capuano said Thursday morning at the team’s optional practice in Annapolis. “I thought he was dialed in, he was focused and for the rest of the way, he played extremely well for us.”
To his credit, Halak (24 saves) responded by stopping each one of Washington’s next 19 shots. He outplayed Caps goaltender Braden Holtby (23 saves), who let up three goals in his 59 minutes of work, including a softie by Brock Nelson to start things off.
According to Capuano, nobody is more important to the team’s continued success than no. 41.
“Goaltender has gotta be your best player in the playoffs, bottom line,” Capuano said. “It’s about special teams, it’s about luck (and) health, but it comes down to goaltending. If you look in the history of this game, a lot of the guys that are playing at the end (in) the Stanley Cup playoffs (it’s) usually (when) those guys between the pipes that are playing their best hockey. You know what, he’s been there for us, he’s been a leader for us, and I expect he’ll do the same thing as we move forward.”
Halak already has one magical playoff run in his history, when he carried the Canadiens into the 2010 Eastern Conference final after back-to-back Game 7 series wins over the Caps and Penguins. But for Halak, that’s all that season is: history.
“It was a long time ago, I’m not trying to think about what I did in the past, I’m trying to live in the moment,” he said. “Game 1 is behind us. It’s great we won, but now we have to prepare for Game no. 2. It’s going to be even harder and we just need to keep getting better as the series goes on.”
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