“What if Jaroslav Halak’s trade demand had been obligated?”
“The Stanley Cup playoffs. History will be made.”
Cue the slow motion replays and the sappy music. For those watching the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, we’ve all seen those commercials: “What if Bourque didn’t believe in one more year?” “What if Mario weren’t so Super?” as he blows past a defender for a goal, or “What if Roy played like a rookie?” while making one of his famous glove saves for Halak’s Montreal Canadiens back in the day.
I don't know about you, but in addition to packing a lot of history in a short clip, they give me chills for they are both so expertly done and so perfect. Their creator deserves a raise as he's a genius. He understands the game and certainly how to capture a moment in time.
Well, to that I’d like to add the above question that I opened this article. The Versus announcers, at least here in America, raised a similar question during the epic game six of the first round of the playoffs where Halak started to make a name for himself with those 53 saves on 54 shots —many of which were 2003-J.S.-Giguere-like, as I pointed out in my previews of the Conference Semis .
Earlier in the season when he was Carey Price’s back-up, apparently he had made such a request due to the lack of playing time. That’s all ancient history.
I noted that not since then have I seen goaltending that superb or stellar, and suggested that one can ride a hot goalie a long way, perhaps to the Stanley Cup title the same way the 2002-03 Anaheim Ducks did with Giguere.
Last night was no exception. After being up with a seemingly comfortable 4-0 lead, I noted to friends it was still “too early,” as there were 15:00 left in the second period. When Alex Goligoski —whom I was prepared to place blame on anyway for not doing enough in this series, was originally credited with scoring the first goal —I got a bit nervous.
Still too much time.
Then Jordan Staal took a page out of teammate Matt Cooke’s all-too-often dirty playbook and hit a Montreal Canadien to the ice in order to better position himself in front of the net —which he did, for a tip-in goal.
When Montreal committed a dumb penalty with 9.5 seconds left in the second, which would see Pittsburgh on the powerplay for basically two minutes to start the third, I didn’t like their chances at killing it. They lost all the momentum even though at the end of the day, they had given up a net gain of exactly zero since they had entered the second up two goals (2-0) only to have that same margin (4-2 entering the final period.
Sidney Crosby, who basically pulled a LeBron James by not showing up last night (or the entire series for that matter) to which ESPN’s Barry Melrose noted in the opening segment, missed a point-blank, doorstep, put-back 0.35 seconds into the third that Halak made one of his tremendous saves on. That should have made it 4-3.
Finally, when Brent Johnson, who I’ve always respected from his St. Louis days, replaced struggling-to-say-the-least goalie, Marc Andre Fleury half way though the second period, and the comeback was seemingly on, I thought we were about to witness history.
The 1975 series between the New York Islanders and Penguins was brought up by the announcers —where New York came all the way back from an 0-3 hole (the same way the Philadelphia Flyers will probably do this year) to win their series.
At 6:52 Evgeni Malkin missed a close shot that should have made it 4-4 but when Brian Gionta scored his second goal of the night, exactly at the 10 minute mark, you could tell that building gave up even though I personally remained nervous.
The loss would guarantee new Stanley Cup champions, and in fact, an entirely new Finals for the first time in three years. Additionally, with Detroit (4), Pittsburgh (3), New Jersey (3), and Colorado (2), winning 12 of the last 20 Cups, all out of the playoffs, we are finally going to see new “old blood” as the worst-case scenario will match two original-six teams the Chicago Blackhawks vs. the Boston Bruins.
I, like the NHL, can live with that, even though its no secret I want the Cup back in Canada where it belongs, and hasn’t been since ’92-93 when these same Canadiens brought it home.
Montreal was 12-8 all time in game sevens and a perfect 4-0 in elimination games this year alone. Pittsburgh, while 7-4 in similar game sevens had won four straight but all of them were on the road. Here’s hoping Montreal’s magical eighth-seeded Cinderella story continues as they are the first Eastern Conference team ever to make it this far out of that slot.
At this point there is no way I am betting against them in the next round. This is not to count out the Flyers,who are the hottest team outside of the Habs or the Bruins, but I think should they survive, having already lost both David Krejci and Marco Sturm, two players I noted to watch for the rest of the playoffs, they will be easy pickings for their opponent because of this.
The fact that series is going seven games is proof of their demise.
As for Montreal, they already knocked off a clearly overrated Alex-Ovechkin-led Washington Capitals team that was short on experience and the defending Stanley Cup champs in Pittsburgh and torch-bearer, Sidney Crosby. No matter what happens, what they’ve accomplished is already amazing, and very much needed in the otherwise redundant NHL.
Many people wonder why I push so hard for nostalgic teams like the Quebec Nordiques, Winnipeg Jets (who just got screwed over this week) and the Hartford Whalers to return despite the fact I am not Canadian. It is for moments like this. It is for the fans who truly appreciate and understand history. Most of all, to me it offers a clue what it would be like if their provincial cousins, the Nordiques, were still around and allowed to have this success.
This victory is theirs too in hockey-mad Quebec.
For that their season should continue along with their legacy, at least until they, too, return, which I believe is only a matter of time given the economic state of the NHL —but that is for another article, believe me, one that I will write.
The Versus announcers started to have fun at the 16:27 mark when one of them stated, “It is too early to build a statue of Halak, but they can start ordering the bronze.”
The other quickly added: “Well, they literally have some for Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy.”
I can’t say I’m starting to agree —I already agreed.
What we are watching is truly historical. From little Mike Cammalleri (12 goals), to rookie super-sensation P.K. Subban, that you can just marvel at watching along the boards or on the powerplay; to leader Andrei Markov, whom Versus and Barry Melrose reported after the game will be back for the next round, the future is in good hands in Montreal.
But it all starts with Halak.
Again I ask: “What if Jaroslav Halak’s trade demand had been obligated?”
Cue the music, and like the commercial concludes: “The Stanley Cup playoffs. History will be made.”
Indeed, its starting to look that way, because it already has.
I didn't make this video, nor have I seen it during a telecast, but its bascially accomplishing what I was trying to do here and for that and for now, "What if Halak hadn't been magnifique" will have to suffice...
Oh and HAPPY BIRTHDAY (today) Jaroslav!
Information, statistics, and references from ESPN, notably Barry Melrose, Bram Weinstien on ESPNEWS, 12 May 2010, NHL.com, VERSUS' Keith Jones and Brian Engblom, and Youtube directly contributed to this article.