MONTREAL – Jaroslav Halak
found himself in familiar territory with an unfamiliar feeling on Monday.
For the first time since being traded to St. Louis in June 2010, the 26-year-old goaltender returned to the Bell Centre in Montreal. This time, though, he passed the Canadiens’ locker room for the slightly-less inviting one labeled “Visiting Team.”
“It feels a little weird to be on the other side, but my home is St. Louis right now, and we’re here and we’re going to play a great game,” Halak said after Monday’s practice. “Obviously there are two points on the line, and we’ll see at the end of the night who comes out with a win.”
It’s been nearly two years since the 26-year-old Slovakian goaltender captivated the city of Montreal, every hockey fan in North America and practically everyone associated with the game when he led the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010. Along the way, his heroics between the pipes helped the Canadiens eliminate the top-seeded Washington Capitals and the fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins from the postseason.
All of this happened despite the fact that Halak wasn’t even the No. 1 goalie on his team to start the season.
“Obviously I had some tough times and some good times over the course of my career when I was here,” Halak said. “More and more, I was getting chances to play and getting more confident and playing better. At the end of that season I was playing a lot of games, and being in the playoffs was huge for me.”
Not long after Halak became the toast of the town, Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier opted to keep Carey Price between the pipes, dealing Halak to St. Louis for forward prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. After a much-publicized outcry from the fans over the loss of their playoff hero, Halak packed his bags for St. Louis, where he became the fastest goalie in franchise history to record three shutouts, eclipsing the legendary Jacques Plante in just nine games.
Halak has played 78 games as a Blue since the trade, recording a 36-28-12 record with a 2.39 goals-against average, a .910 save percentage and eight shutouts.
His next scheduled start, Tuesday in Montreal, will certainly be a memorable one.
“It’s great to be back in Montreal to play a game. I’m glad I get the start tomorrow, and hopefully it’s going to be a great game for both sides,” Halak said.
Blues forward David Perron
, who grew up in nearby Sherbrooke, Quebec, said Halak will no doubt face a lot of pressure playing in front of a crowd that once adored him so much.
“(It’s) big time pressure. I think it’s something that I can’t even imagine myself,” Perron said. “The roof came off of that building a lot when he played and won in the playoffs. It’s just going to be another game for most of the guys, but for Jaro, it’s going to be a real special game. We’re going to try our best to get the two points for him.”
Halak is red-hot entering Tuesday’s game, going 6-0-3 with a 1.95 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage over that span. Maintaining his composure Tuesday at Bell Centre won’t be an easy task.
“Obviously it’s one of the best building in the NHL,” Halak said. “It’s going to be a little bit different for me to be on the opposition side, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”