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Playing with the big boys

Tuesday, 20.03.2007 / 12:00 AM / News
Montreal Canadiens
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Playing with the big boys
Rookie Halak continues to shine after almost being sent back to minors

Jaroslav Halak was stellar against the Bruins, earning his first NHL shutout.

MONTREAL - Many wondered if it was too much too soon when Guy Carbonneau and the Canadiens entrusted their crease to rookie Jaroslav Halak for the homestretch. But the 21-year-old appears right at home in the heat of the Habs' battle for a playoff spot.

After leading the Canadiens to a crucial win over the Maple Leafs Saturday night, Halak outdid himself against the Bruins with his first NHL shutout.

Only one week after he looked to have his bags all but packed for Hamilton after a rough patch saw him drop four straight, Halak has risen to the challenge and repaid his head coach for the vote of confidence.

"The last thing we wanted was to burn him out," admitted Carbonneau of his young prodigy. "Roland Melanson is the one with day-to-day contact with our goalies. We were all looking for a way to fire up the team and we finally agreed on giving Halak another shot."

Halak has now grabbed a stranglehold of the Habs' crease for the time being.

"Tonight was sweet revenge for me," said Halak, who suffered a 3-1 loss to the Bruins in Boston on March 3. "I had let in a couple of soft goals that night and I'm glad I was able to bounce back and help us get this big win."

Mike Komisarek made sure to scoop up the game puck for Halak.

"This is my seventh puck of the season," said Halak, who also had a half dozen shutouts with the Bulldogs in the AHL. "But this is by far the most important one. I'm really happy with my performance tonight."

Halak was quick to credit his teammates for paving his way to his second-straight first star selection.

"I may have faced 30 shots, but I saw everything that came at me," added Halak. "My defensemen did a great job of clearing my crease all night."

After seeing the Slovak netminder kick aside all 30 Bruins shots he faced Tuesday night, Carbonneau is certainly not regretting going with his gut feeling about Halak. The sight of Halak slaming the door on the Bruins was music to the rookie coach's ears.

"It looks like those couple of days off did him a world of good," said Carbonneau. "He seems more comfortable out there now. The experience he's gaining now will only help him down the road."

If Halak continues his stellar play, that road could be a long one that extends well into spring for the Canadiens.

Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com