Jaroslav Halak’s best save of the postseason for the Boston Bruins has been a dandy glove stop on a deflected puck – into the team’s bench.

His reflexes still were on point, despite being firmly stapled to the pine for the team’s playoff run, and he saved a member of the training staff from a nasty lump.

That he’s seen no game action in 17 contests this postseason appears to be of little consequence to the Slovakian-born netminder, who was a perfect 1A complement to starter Tuukka Rask during the regular season.

Halak posted a 22-11-4 record with a 2.34 goal-against average, .922 save percentage and five shutouts. When Rask needed a break, Halak was there.

“Tuukka was the first one to acknowledge how important Jaroslav was,” Bruins GM Don Sweeney said earlier this postseason. “We were very respectful of the position itself knowing that we needed to find a balance.

“We didn’t have an exact number. We had mapped out the starts of the year, and outside of injuries didn’t deviate from it, and it’s a testament to the way both players were playing.”

A former ninth-round selection, Halak found a home where he can showcase his talents and bring a needed sense of relief to Rask.

Those who’ve known him best for the last 15 years are not the least bit shocked at his success in Boston.

The Montreal Canadiens drafted Halak in the ninth round of the 2003 NHL draft, No. 271 overall. In the summer of 2004, the Lewiston Maineiacs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League changed Halak’s career track. Coach and GM Clement Jodoin knew of Halak from his time with the Canadiens.

“When I was with Montreal, Rollie Melanson was the goalie coach, and he worked with him a little bit,” Jodoin said. “He said, ‘There’s an opening here, this player is really good.’ So we (the Maineiacs) drafted him in the European draft. I always believe when you build a hockey team, it starts in the net, and we had good depth in the net with him.”

Alongside Halak in the Lewiston crease that season was a 16-year-old QMJHL rookie named Jonathan Bernier. Now with the Detroit Red Wings after stops in Los Angeles, Toronto and Colorado, Bernier appreciated his year under Halak.

“He was already having a pro mindset,” Bernier said. “He was coming to the rink, doing his stretching, working out and making sure his body was healthy for the whole year.

“I remember he helped me a lot for the following year, when I played 60 games or whatever it was. You understand how hard it is, and how much work you have you put into your body to stay fresh.”

Halak’s goalie coach that season, Marc Champagne, saw something special immediately.

“His battle level was unreal,” Champagne said. “When I was at the Montreal rookie camp, the first thing I noticed was his compete level was outstanding. That goes a long way … I had a feeling he was going to go far. You get a gut feeling, you know.”

In 47 games for Lewiston in the regular season, Halak had a 2.78 GAA and a .913 save percentage in front of a mediocre team. They swept the first round of the playoffs in a mild upset before getting steamrolled in four games by Sidney Crosby and the Rimouski Oceanic.

“He did a great job, he was a great competitor,” Jodoin said. “He had to make an adjustment to North American hockey, but he did that. He was a very good teammate. He sometimes had a funny character, but he’s a goalie, and goalies can be different.”

Halak had a hard time reconciling his feelings the following season, moving back and forth between Long Beach of the ECHL and Hamilton of the AHL in the Canadiens system.

“We used to have discussions,” Champagne said. “We used to talk and I would tell him, ‘Bear down, take the grind, and one day you’ll be happy.’ It’s a test, it’s a test from teams that want to see how badly you want it. Either you pack it in or you keep moving.”

The following season, Halak started as Hamilton’s No. 2 goalie. By the end of the season, he had played 16 games in the National Hockey League.

In 2009-10, Halak nearly made the unthinkable happen in Montreal. With Carey Price injured, Halak led the Habs on an unexpected run to the Eastern Conference finals before the team bowed out to the Flyers.

Halak and Price both were restricted free agents that summer, and there was a legitimate debate – among the fans, at least – about which goalie to retain. Montreal chose Price, and traded Halak to St. Louis.

Halak thrived with the Blues. In 2011-12, he combined with Brian Elliott to earn the Jennings Trophy for the best team GAA in the regular season. His personal GAA was a minuscule 1.97, with a .925 save percentage.

In the middle of another solid season in 2013-14, the Blues sent Halak to Washington, where he appeared in just 12 games. The Capitals traded Halak’s rights to the Islanders, where he signed a four-year, $18 million deal that expired in 2018. His numbers dropped off toward the end of his contract as he played behind a struggling team, but the Bruins signed him to a two-year, $5.5 million contract.

“You look at his whole career, he’s been pretty steady the whole time,” Jodoin said. “In any career, you have ups and downs, some low and high points. He’s been battling and fighting the whole time. I’m very happy the way he did it.”

This season, Halak is one of the biggest reasons the Bruins are in the Stanley Cup finals, despite the fact he hasn’t played a meaningful game since April 4 – fittingly, a shutout.

“He was outstanding this year,” said Champagne, who still works out with Halak in the offseason. “You need to have a solid backup. I don’t consider him as a backup, I consider him a strong 1A. It stabilizes the position, and you don’t have to worry about who’s in net.

“He’s always proved himself. When I first saw him, I knew his character would take him a long way. We cannot say enough, he’s a great person. Now he’s in a position where, he’s close to having his name on the Cup.”


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