MONTREAL - Those expecting young Jaroslav Halak to buckle under the pressure of being flung into the fire of the Canadiens battle for a playoff spot, think again. Halak doesn't appear to know the meaning of the "p" word.
"He played really well tonight," said head coach Guy Carbonneau. "He gave us a big game when we needed one."
While Halak has been on ice since a shaky performance that saw him get yanked in a 6-2 loss in Atlanta, the Slovak netminder has put in some extra time with goaltending coach Rollie Melanson. Time which Carbonneau believes was well spent.
"Rollie's great technically, that's no surprise but he also does a lot for our goalies regarding their mental preparation," explained Carbonneau. "He's works the guys hard, but putting in that effort is what makes all the difference."
Halak never hung his head despite not seeing action in over a week and even sitting in the pressbox for pair of games while fellow newcomer Michael Leighton took over as backup.
"All I wanted was to get another shot," said Halak, after making an NHL career-high 37 saves and being named the game's first star. "I knew I could play a lot better than my last game against Atlanta. All I was focused on was staying positive and waiting for my next chance."
The Leafs may have pelted Halak with 39 shots on the night, but the game didn't start out that way. The 21-year-old waited over five minutes for his first shot as the Habs jumped up to an 11-2 shot margin.
"I'm the type of goalie who likes to face a lot of shots, it keeps me sharp," admitted Halak, who eventually got his wish with the Leafs outshooting Montreal by a combined 27-13 margin in the second and third period. "They ended up with a lot of shots but the guys in front of me really helped and I had a great look at most of them."
Halak's heroics didn't go unnoticed by his teammates both past and present with his former Bulldogs mates looking on from the pressbox in preparation for their game at the Bell Centre tomorrow afternoon against the Syracuse Crunch.
"This was Jaro's first taste of an NHL shootout at home and he sure rose to the occasion," said Saku Koivu, who scored goal and added another in the shootout. "He delivered at a moment when he really needed him too."
His poise under pressure has also turned several heads in the Habs' dressing room.
"He's been incredibly calm since he got here," said Francis Bouillon, who was anything but calm in his spirited tussle with Darcy Tucker in the first period. "Guys called up for the first time are normally nervous, but not in Jaro's case. He's just super calm by nature. Seeing him come up with such a strong performance is going to give all of us a big lift."
The Canadiens will be right back at it Tuesday night against the Bruins, with Halak likely not having to wait as long for his next start.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com