After months of being asked which goalie he'd choose come playoff time, Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock finally had an answer.Jaroslav Halak
will start Game 1 on Thursday vs. San Jose (6:30 p.m., Scottrade Center).
"We'll start with Jaro and like everything else, hope for the best," Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock was first asked the question back in February, when the Blues appeared to be postseason bound but were receiving excellent goaltending from both Halak and Brian Elliott
. Hitchcock hinted that at some point, he'd make a decision on which guy would shoulder the load down the stretch, but it never happened.
Instead, Halak finished 26-12-7 with a 1.96 goals-against average, a .926 save percentage and six shutouts. Elliott was 23-10-4 with a 1.56 goals-against average, a .940 save percentage and nine shutouts. The pair easily won the William Jennings Trophy, given to the NHL team that allows the fewest goals during the regular season.
Goalie - STL
GAA: 1.97 | SVP: 0.926
Both goalies played well enough to earn the No. 1 role, but neither could steal the job from the other.
"To me, [the goalies] have been the story of our hockey club," Hitchcock told NHL.com. "When your leading scorer hasn't gotten to 60 points yet and you're in first in the division, that's quite an accomplishment. We've done it with checking, we've done it with defense and more importantly, we've done it with goaltending."
Halak's playoff resume may have played a role in Hitchcock's decision.
Two years ago, he captivated the city of Montreal, every hockey fan in North America and practically everyone associated with the game when he lead the eighth-seeded Canadiens all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Along the way, his heroics mowed down the top-seeded Washington Capitals and the fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins. Both teams were heavy favorites for the Stanley Cup.
His performance in each series was the stuff of legend. Facing elimination in Game 6 against Washington, he stopped a jaw-dropping 51 shots before giving up a goal with 4:50 remaining. He followed that up with a 41-save performance in Game 7. Later against the Penguins, he stopped 38 of 39 shots in both Game 2 and Game 7 to help eliminate the defending champions at the time.
Against the Sharks this season, Halak was 2-0 with a 0.50 goals-against average and one shutout. He stopped 43 of 44 shots against the Sharks.
Can Blues fans expect a repeat performance?
"I think it's going to be a good battle. I'm excited," Halak said. "We'll see how it goes. One game at a time. Tomorrow is Game 1 and we need to focus on that one."
Thursday's game can't come soon enough.