Montreal-Washington: The Defining Moment in Jaroslav Halak's Career?

Kamal PanesarCorrespondent IApril 19, 2010

WASHINGTON - APRIL 15: Jaroslav Halak #41 of the Montreal Canadiens makes a save against the Washington Capitals in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on April 15, 2010 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

As we await tonight's third game in the Montreal-Washington first round playoff matchup, most of the conversation is focused on the goaltending in this series.

As my colleague from, Steve Hindle, astutely pointed out before the series started, we have seen three goaltenders so far.

Steve is also reporting this morning that it looks like Theo will be in the net tonight. If this turns out to be true, I think this is a decision that plays nicely in the Canadiens' hands as Theo just doesn't seem to play very well in Montreal.

As for the Habs, Alexander Ovechkin got things going yesterday when he said that he noticed that Halak's hand was shaking every time he grabbed the water bottle in the last game. Halak must be nervous and that is a good thing for the Caps.

Now, Ovechkin is a smart guy and is clearly playing psychological playoff games, and why not? What's to lose in making a comment like that, which will surely get back to Halak? At worst, he ignores it, is unaffected, and goes out and does his thing.

At best, however, Ovie's comment seeps in Halak’s mind, poisons him, and makes him nervous for tonight's game. If this scenario plays out, the Habs will be in big trouble.

An RFA at season's end and clearly gunning for a big contract, Jaroslav Halak will be playing the most important game of his relatively young career tonight. While he let in a couple of soft goals last game that helped the Caps tie and win the game, I think that in my mind, it is a no-brainer to go back to Halak tonight.

If it wasn't for Halak the Habs wouldn't even be in the playoffs in the first place. Also, Halak has shown the ability to bounce back from a weak performance when given the chance—however sparingly he was given that chance this year.

Tonight's Game Three could be THE defining moment in Halak's career and I fully expect him to produce one of his best efforts of the season so far. And don't kid yourself, because a lot of GM's around the league will be watching to see how Halak responds.

It is in times like this, during the playoffs, that you get to see a player's true colours and how well or poorly Halak responds to the pressure will help determine how valuable an asset he will be in the offseason.

If he falters badly, however, I would not hesitate to go with Carey Price in Game Four.

So, while like many Habs addicts, I sit here with that sick, nervous, seven-and-a-half-hours-till-game-time-feeling in my stomach, I hope that Halak will succeed tonight. However, I am also aware of the fact that the Washington snipers have now figured out that they have to shoot high to score on Halak.

The last two goals—from last game—were evidence of this fact as Carlson and Backstrom scored identical goals from about 30 feet out, by whipping the puck high, glove side.

Tonight's game is pivotal in the series and I think that the winner will very likely go on to win the series.

Here's hoping Halak can recover, the Habs can keep the Caps from running his crease, and that the refs can find their whistles if they do.

Enjoy the game folks!

UPDATE: Halak and Varlamov are getting the starts tonight, Glen Metropolit is back in the lineup, and Sergei Kostitsyn is a healthy scratch.

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