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Ice Age: Line for Halak forms on the right

Friday, 04.30.2010 / 5:00 PM / Ice Age

By Phil Coffey - NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director

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Ice Age: Line for Halak forms on the right
Jaroslav Halak, a restricted free agent come July 1, is making himself one popular player thanks to his great series against Washington.
The line of teams interested in talking to Jaroslav Halak this summer forms to the right.

The Montreal Canadiens' postseason sensation will be a restricted free agent come July 1. He has done nothing but make himself an attractive option for any NHL team looking to improve in the crease, and he likely will be option No. 1 for the Canadiens. With Carey Price also becoming a restricted free agent, Montreal GM Pierre Gauthier has some deciding to do, since it is quite possible whoever doesn't re-sign in Montreal would be available for a trade.

Unless you have been surfing at the North Pole, you know Halak has been the story of the first round of these Stanley Cup Playoffs. The eighth-seeded Habs were supposed to be a speed bump for the Washington Capitals, and almost were, down 3-1 to Alex Ovechkin and Co. before coach Jacques Martin returned Halak to the crease for Game 5. Over the final three games of the series, Halak allowed just three goals on what seemed like a billion shots, and now Montreal gets to experience Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby up close and personal.

"He was huge. He played unbelievable for us," Canadiens forward Glen Metropolit said. "That's the difference. In the playoffs you need your goalie to be your No. 1 star, and that's what he was. He was in the zone the last two games. What can I say? You guys all saw it. It's great having a goalie like that you can trust to make the big save."

Halak proved to be unflappable. After being pulled in Game 3, he was benched in favor of Price for Game 4. After Montreal dropped that game, he was back in the net with the Habs having no margin for error.

"In the playoffs, every game is a different game, and if you lose you have to put it behind you because if you still think about it you put yourself in a bad spot and we don't want that," Halak said.

"If you lose there is a new game coming up, and we have to make sure we're ready for that one," he said, perhaps not realizing he didn't have a new game coming up had he lost any of his starts the rest of the way.

Halak almost was an afterthought at the start of the season, playing just 67 minutes in the first seven games. In November, he "enjoyed" only 31 minutes in 12 games. But by December, he was back in the mix as Price struggled.

"I only played one game in November, and that was very tough for me," Halak told the Montreal Gazette. "But I worked hard to get better and I've found some success."

And no doubt a lot of interest from around the NHL for his services next season.

Well Said I -- "For some reason, I'm not surprised." -- Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo on hearing Dustin Byfuglien would be playing forward against Vancouver.

Coyotes learn a lesson -- The Phoenix Coyotes' surprising season came to a disappointing end in Game 7 against the Red Wings, a 6-1 loss. But the Coyotes took away from the defeat an important factor for future success, namely that in big games your best players have to be your best players.

"It was more like a hurricane than a storm," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said after Game 7. "We didn't catch the pace of the game the whole game. Their top players came out and dictated and we had no answer for them. They were relentless.

"When their top players play like that, the whole group just jumps right in, and hats off to them, they played an unbelievable game. We had no answer no matter what we were doing. They just turned it up another level that we couldn't get to."

"The way they played tonight, I don't know if anybody can beat them," Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov told reporters. "I played with everything ... tried to keep the team alive the best I can, but it was not enough. You can say maybe we didn't play good enough, tough to say, but they were unreal tonight."

"The reality is, we just got thumped," Tippett said.

Well Said II -- "I told them I felt exactly like they did. I thought we had a good chance to win the Stanley Cup this year. I would have bet my house that they wouldn't have beaten us three games in a row and that we wouldn't have scored only three goals (the past three games)." -- Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau after the Game 7 loss to Montreal.

One that got away -- The Boston Bruins proved to be a slippery foe for the Buffalo Sabres and the results were the East's third seed going home after six games, a most disappointing result for coach Lindy Ruff and Co.

"I really felt we had a chance to grab this series in Game 2, and we let it slip," Ruff told reporters. "Again we had a chance to grab hold of this series in Game 4.

"We made some mistakes during the series, some mistakes that we'd like to have back. Overall, it wasn't good enough. That's just the bottom line."

Thursday, the Sabres picked the one-year option on Ruff's contract, so he will be back, as will GM Darcy Regier, who also has a year left on his contract.

"Any notion that they're not going to be part of the process of us getting there, let's dispel that now," Sabres President Larry Quinn said.

"The obvious disappointment is staring us right in the face, but I'm really excited about this group of players," Ruff said. "I can say this season was a tremendous step forward in the regular season. And it was a kick in the backside, and a step backward in the playoffs."

Well Said III -- "I think that's playoff hockey. I think it's a commitment by the players. I think they know at this time of the year you've got to do everything in your power to win games. It means sometimes taking hits to make plays, it means blocking shots, it means to be fully committed." -- Canadiens coach Jacques Martin on his team's shot blocking against the Caps.

It's good to be the rookie -- You might think that being in the pressure cooker of playing goal as a rookie for the Detroit Red Wings might be a tad daunting for Jimmy Howard.

Prior to eliminating the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 7, coach Mike Babcock said you would be wrong to think that way.

"I think if you're Jimmy Howard, you have to be pretty ecstatic," Babcock said. "Here it is your first year in the NHL, you won a starting job, you've been nominated for the Calder Trophy, and now you get to play in a Game 7. I think it's fantastic. The other thing about it is, you've gotten the team here, so for him, it's got to be a great feeling."

Quick not dead -- With Jonathan Bernier recently being named the AHL's top goaltender, there had been speculation that Jonathan Quick was just keeping the crease warm for him in Los Angeles.

But Kings coach Terry Murray told Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times that Quick, who won 39 regular-season games, remains squarely in his plans for 2010-11. And why not? Quick appeared in 72 games and logged over 4,000 minutes. But his first Stanley Cup Playoff experience was a learning one, as his goals-against was 3.50 in six games against the Canucks.

"I think now that he's shown his level of play, that he is a No. 1 goaltender, first of all, is very important," Murray said. "Now that that is settled there will be no discussion about it next year coming into the training camp. He's our guy. He's our No. 1 goaltender. Then we'll see where the competition goes from there and who is going to be from that point the No. 2 guy."

Well Said IV -- "Every year, if you're playing on Nick's birthday, that means you're in the second round." -- Red Wings coach Mike Babcock

Spreading the wealth -- Believe it or not, Dan Bylsma says he gets a kick out of it when the Pittsburgh Penguins win and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin don't have a bushel of points.

"It's a pretty good offensive team, and being fifth in the League in goals proves that," Bylsma told reporters after eliminating the Ottawa Senators in Game 6 of their first-round series. "When you play that way and get to your game in the playoffs, you give everyone a chance to be a hero. I get excited when you win a Game 6 like that and we get one assist from Crosby or Malkin."

Bylsma said that one aspect of his coaching philosophy is to not be a slave to the past, so if a line clicked last year, for example, he isn't afraid to try a new combination this year.

"One of the things I learned in being an assistant coach and watching some of the good coaches I've coached with is try to treat each situation (as) new and not go to the notebook and say, 'This is what I did in this situation last time so I'm going to do the same thing over again,'" Bylsma said. "Not every situation is the same. Not every team is the same."

Well Said V -- "In a lot of ways, it didn't really matter who we got, because it's really about how we play. How we're defending, how we're going through the neutral zone, our puck possession. We have to concentrate on us and how we do." -- San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle

Late deadline deal -- Any team that adds a significant player at the trade deadline will go through an adjustment period as player and team grow accustomed to one another. But for the Boston Bruins, getting Marc Savard back for Round 2 is like getting a marquee player who already knows your system.

Savard, out with a Grade 2 concussion since March 7, is back for the conference semifinals, and while he may be a bit rusty, the Bruins know what he adds to the lineup.

"Obviously, he's a terrific offensive player and you've seen his performances in playoffs," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said. "He really works on the two-way side of his game in the playoffs. It's like a trade-deadline acquisition. We're adding, obviously, a very good player to our mix for the next series."

Well Said VI -- "I don't know. I think we have everything and we just lose the game. I don't know. How do I say? I really don't know what to say right now." -- Alex Ovechkin after Wednesday's Game 7 loss to Montreal.

All eyes on Nick -- When the chips are down, the Detroit Red Wings look to captain Nicklas Lidstrom. What they see is a leader whose demeanor rarely changes whether the Red Wings are up by five or down by five.

And that inspires confidence among his teammates and coaches about the man they call "the perfect human."

"It starts with the captain, that guy right there," rookie goalie Jimmy Howard told Chris McCosky of the Detroit News after the Red Wings advanced past the Coyotes. "He stays so calm. And if your leaders stay calm and when the game is on the line they really go after it, it allows everybody else to raise their game and everything just falls into place."

Lidstrom turned 40 the day after the first-round series ended. But don't try to sell the Red Wings on the notion the captain is slowing down.

"People keep saying he's lost a step," Howard said. "I don't see it. He's still the best in the game."

He certainly hasn't lost a step in the eyes of his peers, as coach Mike Babcock pointed out.

"They told me the players voted him the best shut-down defenseman in the National Hockey League (Sports Illustrated poll)," Babcock said. "That's not by accident. He's that good. But every year if you are playing on Nick's birthday, that means you are in the second round. That's a good thing."

"Everyone came together and knew what we had to do to win," forward Todd Bertuzzi said after eliminating the Coyotes. "The guys really showed up and it's a credit to the leadership we have in our room."

A credit to Nicklas Lidstrom.

Well Said VII -- "I think the powers that be are taking as long as they can before it comes down. It's a very sad time in Philadelphia sports history." -- Former Flyer Gary Dornhoefer on the impending demolition of the Flyers' first home, the Spectrum.



Quote of the Day

We want to make sure that whoever makes our team really makes our team by earning it and not putting them in situations where they get preference because of their status as a first-round pick or whatever it might be. That's not going to happen. Everybody has to earn their way on our team.

— Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen on the team's prospects at development camp