BOSTON - Bruce Cassidy made sure to reiterate how fortunate he feels on Tuesday night.
Good goaltending can lessen the headaches of any coach in the National Hockey League, and these days, Boston's bench boss has, perhaps, the clearest mind of them all.
Each night that the Bruins take the ice, Cassidy - and his team - is confident that the goaltender between the pipes will provide a strong opportunity to win. With the tandem of Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask and former All-Star Jaroslav Halak together for the past season-plus, the Bruins have had what many believe is the best goalie duo in the league.
And it's performances like the one that Halak provided against the Carolina Hurricanes that has helped reinforce those claims. Playing in his 500th NHL game, the 34-year-old netminder stopped all 24 shots he faced for his 49th career shutout in the Bruins' 2-0 victory at TD Garden.
"Might as well get it with a shutout, right? Good for him," said Cassidy, whose team won its eighth straight game and became the first in the NHL to reach 20 wins. "He battles hard in there. In my opinion, he's a No. 1 goalie in this league - he's proven that. He plays great for us, gives us a chance to win every night. For a coach, for players out there, knowing it doesn't matter who goes in the net, you're going to get quality goaltending, give us a chance to win and more every night.
"I think the guys are real happy for Jaro. He's a guy that battles in practice, too, for the guys as he takes those extra shots when he needs to. I thought he was real good tonight."
Video: CAR@BOS: Halak stops 24 shots, shuts out Hurricanes
After several seasons of subpar backup goaltending, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney knew that his team - and Rask - would benefit greatly from having a dependable backstop in the No. 2 hole. As such Sweeney inked Halak to a two-year contract worth an average annual cap hit of $2.75 million on July 1, 2018.
In his first season with Boston, Halak briefly took over as the starter in November when Rask stepped away for a short leave of absence. His efforts earned him more playing time and helped ease the burden on Rask, who played just 46 games, his lowest total since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
Halak finished the year 22-11-4 with a .922 save percentage and 2.34 goals against average in 40 games. And despite not playing a single second in the postseason, his teammates made sure to acknowledge how crucial Halak was to the Bruins advancing to the Stanley Cup Final last spring.
"He's just been a rock in there," Sean Kuraly said on Tuesday morning. "The team's playing no different no matter who's in there. It's a credit to him how he steps in and plays and sometimes not in the most ideal of situations. He's just been solid and a really good teammate. It's been fun to have him."
Halak, who just three years ago was playing for the Islanders' AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, has carried his success into this season, improving to 7-1-3 with a .934 save percentage and 2.14 goals against average, which ranks second and third in the NHL, respectively. Rask ranks second in GAA (2.04) and fourth in save percentage (.933). Overall, the Bruins are allowing a league-low 2.18 goals per game.
"I think it's a really good accomplishment for any goalie," Halak said of playing in 500 career games, becoming just the 74th goalie in NHL history to reach that mark. "Particularly [after] finding myself three or four years ago in the minors. I just tried to focus on what's now and what happened in the past, happened in the past. I'm just glad I am a part of this group because it is a special group and we are so close, and we keep proving it on ice.
"We stick to the game plan for 60 minutes. Tonight, we did. And for the most part, we do. We believe even if it's a tie game or we are down by one or so we still believe that we can come back and win."
Video: Halak Reacts After a Shutout in his 500th Career Game
Halak went on to further thank his Bruins teammates for their support, particularly in the final minutes as they locked things down to preserve the shutout on his special night.
"I can't say anything bad about them," said Halak. "They support myself…I support everyone over here, It's just been great being a part of this group. Last season, we obviously didn't finish the way we wanted, but I think this year we believe we can win…not saying we are playing our best hockey every night because that's impossible - it's a long season, you're going to have ups and downs, but for the most part I think we've been playing really well.
"Even tonight, Carolina is a good team. They proved that last year and even this season they are proving it. We just managed the puck well in our zone. If they had some looks, we managed for me to see them for the most part, and we had some huge blocks tonight."
The Hurricanes did sneak one puck by Halak on Tuesday night, but it was quickly wiped off the board upon review. Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin surged down the right wing during the second period and floated a backhander on goal. The puck ended up behind Halak, but only after finding its way through a hole in the side of the net.
"First of all, I was shocked because I see the post really well. In my head, I was like, 'There's just no way that went in,'" said Halak. "I took a closer look and there was a hole from my stick, a big hole. Maybe happened in warmups or someone stepped on it, but they reviewed it and obviously it was a good call."
One Was Enough
It took over 55 minutes to find a goal, but the Bruins were the first to get on the board when Charlie Coyle's tap-in off a feed from Brad Marchand with 4:05 remaining slid by Hurricanes goalie James Reimer. Boston added another just 1:08 later when David Krejci tipped home a Charlie McAvoy slapper from the point.
The Bruins have now scored a league-leading 39 goals in the third period this season, while allowing just 20, good for the third-lowest mark in the league.
"It shows that we're conditioned, and we have will, both," Cassidy said of his team's strong finishes. "We know how to play when the game is on the line. We're still focusing on our start. I didn't think it was poor tonight by any means…piecing together 60 minutes, but you've seen here, the home games, we've really stepped it up when we needed to. It's the sign of a good team.
"No team is going to have it together for 60 minutes every night, we've talked about that. We're building like everyone else…to be able to win games when you need to and to use everybody - we didn't have to shorten the bench tonight. Certainly, our top guys, they're going to play their minutes, but I thought everyone was involved, did their job, and that's why it was a great team victory tonight."
Video: CAR@BOS: Coyle deflects fast pass from Marchand in
Krejci Pots 200th
Halak was not the only Bruin to reach a special milestone on Tuesday night. With his insurance tally with 2:57 to go, Krejci became just the 19th player in team history to reach the 200-goal plateau.
"I'm happy for him," said Cassidy. "He's an unselfish guy, would rather pass first, look after his teammates that way. Nice goal to score, going to the net too. Both of them were like that. Eventually, we got some separation. Took us a while, but tight-checking games, so good for David. Good guy, good pro, good teammate. Happy for him."
The tip-in of McAvoy's slapper from the point was Krejci's sixth tally of the season and gave Boston a 2-0 advantage. The 33-year-old center now has 16 points (5 goals, 11 assists) in his last 13 games.
"It is just a number at the end, not something that I am particularly interested in, or chasing," said the ever-humble Krejci. "I am just happy we won…I'm here to help the team…I haven't really thought about it yet."
Video: CAR@BOS: Krejci nets 200th goal off redirect in front