With Vezina Trophy finalist Tuukka Rask opting out of the remainder of the postseason, the Bruins must turn to the three other goaltenders on their playoff roster.
Veteran Jaroslav Halak got the win Saturday in Game 3 of Boston’s first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes, with 22-year-old Dan Vladar the backup. Max Lagace did not dress.
“Jaro helped us get to this point,” coach Bruce Cassidy said before puck drop. “He’s an NHL-caliber goaltender. It’s an opportunity for him to get on a good run here for us, so I think the team has full confidence in him. I know the coaching staff does.”
Halak, 35, was the natural choice to replace Rask. The Bruins relied on a two-goalie approach throughout the regular season, with Rask and Halak splitting starts. Both players were recipients of the Jennings Trophy for allowing a league-low 174 goals.
“Jaro is mentally and physically ready to step in and assume the role,” said general manager Don Sweeney. “Obviously, we hope that he rises to that challenge.”
In 29 regular-season starts, Halak went 18-6-6 with a .919 save percentage and 2.39 goals-against average. Among netminders with at least 20 starts, his save percentage ranked 12th in the NHL and his GAA ranked sixth. He also notched three shutouts, including one in which he stopped 24 shots against the Hurricanes in December.
Halak, who has been in the league for 14 years, boasts some postseason experience. He entered Saturday’s game with a 13-16 record, .922 save percentage, and 2.45 goals-against average in the playoffs.
His most memorable stretch came in 2010, when he helped the Montreal Canadiens upset the top-seeded Washington Capitals in the first round, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the second. During those series, Halak posted a .933 save percentage.
Quite some time had passed since Halak last suited up in a playoff setting. Excluding Boston’s round-robin game against the Philadelphia Flyers earlier this month, his last postseason action came as a member of the New York Islanders in 2015.
The Bruins exclusively used Rask during their run to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
Still, Sweeney expressed confidence in Halak moving forward.
“Jaro’s been there,” he said. “He was on a ride last year. He knows what this team is capable of.”
The Bruins will face a decision for Game 6, which, if necessary, will take place the day after Game 5. For the team’s first, albeit unexpected, set of back-to-back games this series, Rask was in net for both contests, which the Bruins split.
The team could deploy Halak for both Games 5 and 6, though it’s possible Vladar or Lagace could see the ice.
“It’s a great opportunity for Daniel or Max, if they get the call,” Sweeney said. “It’s always been a next-man-up mentality.”
Vladar, a Prague native who has yet to make his NHL debut, has spent the past four seasons with Boston’s AHL affiliate in Providence. Drafted 75th overall in 2015, Vladar posted strong numbers with the P-Bruins this past season, going 14-7-1 in 25 games with a .936 save percentage and 1.79 goals-against average.
When Rask was sidelined with a concussion in January, Vladar was called up over Lagace.
Lagace, 27, signed a two-way deal with the Bruins as a free agent last offseason. He appeared in 33 games with the P-Bruins, going 22-7-3 with a .919 save percentage and 2.37 GAA.
A Quebec native, Lagace does have some NHL experience, with the Vegas Golden Knights. During the 2017-18 season, he posted a .867 save percentage and 4.26 GAA average in 16 games for Vegas. Last season, he appeared in just one game for the Knights, a 4-0 loss to the Hurricanes.
Prior to his two-year stint with the Knights, Lagace primarily played for the Texas Stars, the AHL affiliate of the Dallas Stars.