Much will be made of the controversial decision by Montreal Canadiens
coach Guy Carbonneau
to start goalie Jaroslav Halak
instead of Carey Price
in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal round against the Philadelphia Flyerson Wednesday night at Wachovia Center.
Truth be told, the rookie goalie from Bratislava, Slovakia, who made his first start in a Stanley Cup Playoff game, performed admirably with 22 saves in his team’s 4-2 loss. But as was the case with Price, Halak just couldn’t match the out-of-this-world performance of Philadelphia goalie Martin Biron
at the other end of the rink. Biron stopped 36 shots, including 14 each in the first and second periods.
So now Carbonneau has another decision to make when this best-of-seven series shifts Saturday to Montreal for Game 5. Montreal trails 3-1 in the series. The Canadiens have rallied from a 3-1 deficit just once in 13 tries during their illustrious history -- in 2004 against the Boston Bruins
Carbonneau wouldn’t immediately commit to either Halak or Price as his Game 5 starter. But, the coach did give Halak high marks for his Game 4 performance.
``You have to give (Halak) credit,’’ Carbonneau said. ``He was good, but just not good enough. He’s in a tough situation and made some great saves really early and, again, it seems to be a game of inches right now with us. They got a couple chances and took advantage of it.’’
Halak, who stopped all seven shots he faced in the opening period, appeared poised and confident despite the pressure of playing in a hostile environment. His denial of Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter
on a shorthanded breakaway with 14:05 remaining in the first opened some eyes.
``That’s part of the game and sometimes that happens on a power play where the other team will get a break,’’ Halak said. ``I got lucky on the shot but I was happy that I stopped that one. I felt we outplayed them, but just didn’t outscore them. All we can do now is prepare for the next game.’’
The 22-year-old Halak admitted he felt comfortable and wasn’t overly nervous from the outset.
``Coach told me (yesterday) morning and I was surprised but also ready to go,’’ Halak said. ``I wasn’t thinking like it was a playoff game, but a regular-season game, so I prepared the way I normally would. I don’t know if I played well enough to earn another start. I think I played good except for the first goal. I didn’t play a bad game.’’
Halak’s first rookie mishap in the playoffs occurred with 12:13 remaining in the second when white-hot R.J. Umberger
rifled a shot from the left circle that darted past Halak on the short side. It allowed the Flyers to score first for the fourth straight game.
``That goal should not have happened, especially in the playoffs,’’ Halak said. ``There’s not much I could do. It went in and I just had to make sure the next one didn’t.’’
Halak was rendered helpless on Philadelphia’s second goal when Vaclav Prospal
’s ringer off the right post conveniently landed on the tape of Scott Hartnell
cruising down the slot. The play developed so quickly that Halak had little opportunity to react to Hartnell’s quick release.
Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek
, who chipped in with three of the team’s 23 blocked shots in front of Halak, was proud of his goalie.
``He hasn’t gotten in many games this year but at the end of last year, (he) played well down the stretch and enabled us to battle our way back into the playoff picture. Everyone knows what he’s capable of doing. He works hard in practice with our goalie coach (Roland Melanson
) and is a real competitive kid. He doesn’t like being beat in practice and he competed tonight.’’
The Flyers snapped a 2-2 tie with 3:38 left in the third on a power-play goal by Danny Briere
, who neatly tucked away a rebound between Halak and the left goalpost.
Selected in the ninth round (271st overall) by Montreal in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Halak was 16-11 with six shutouts, a 2.00 GAA and .932 save percentage in 28 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League before being called up by the Canadiens on Feb. 15.
He became the full-time backup to Price following the trade of Cristobal Huet
to the Washington Capitals
on Feb. 26. Halak was 10-6 with a 2.89 GAA and .906 save percentage in 2006-07. He was 2-1-1 with a 2.11 GAA and .934 save percentage in six appearances this season.
``Again, it doesn’t matter to us who is in net for Game 5,’’ Komisarek said. ``Whether it’s Carey or Jaro, we are comfortable with both. We know both goalies have the capability of playing well and we’re confident with either.’’
, whose goal with 6:24 remaining in the third pulled Montreal into a 2-2 tie, felt Halak performed well.
``Obviously, it’s not an easy situation for a young goalie to come in like this, but he was in a similar situation last year when he came in at the end of the season and played some games for us,’’ Koivu said. ``He was very confident and made some great saves. He kept us in the game when we needed him.’’
The change in net surprised Flyers coach John Stevens
``I was just scrambling to get some information on (Halak) because we had a pre-scout on (Carey) Price but not very much information on Halak,’’ Stevens said. ``He plays deeper in his net and is more of a reflex goalie. He is not as big, but still a very good puck handler.
“You obviously have to be aware of what a goalie’s tendencies are, but, at the end of the day, you don’t have a lot of time to think in a hockey game. You’re still trying to get pucks to the net. Maybe (Price) needed a day to settle down. Montreal has two young goalies and sometimes you make a switch to inspire your team.’’