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Grade the Players: Tasked with assuming starter duties mid-playoffs, Jaroslav Halak did his best to look the part

The series against Tampa exposed many weaknesses for the B’s, but the series loss doesn’t fall at Halak’s feet.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Tampa Bay Lightning Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: A-

We’ll get to the bubble in a moment, but first, let’s take a quick lap through Jaroslav Halak’s regular season.

With the Bruins coming out of a Cup run, and knowing the widely-held truth that Tuukka Rask needs a partner in net that can take about ⅓ of the season’s workload, Halak likely figured he’d get the same slate as the year prior.

He kicked off his season with a shutout in Arizona and with the way things looked through October and November, the Bruins would make another strong push in the 2020 postseason.

When you’re a team playing your back-up goalie, you accept that there may be some drop-off from your starter. You hope for a solid performance and a chance to win the game.

In Halak, the Bruins, for the first time in years, don’t have to worry about their back-up. Halak’s strong player over the last couple years has given the Bruins a back-up they can rely on, and, in turn, has given Rask a chance to be at his best.

To put it simply, Halak was good. That about sums it up.

However, he did have a frustrating habit of allowing some truly puzzling goals over the course of the year.

Case in point:

Or this one, a knuckler from Toronto’s Morgan Rielly that somehow found Halak’s five-hole after hitting Brandon Carlo. Not Carlo’s fault, and you could make a case that it’s not Halak’s fault, either...but why is he staring into an empty corner instead of guarding the ice right in front of him?

The video examples are cherry-picking, and I’m not about to write an essay on the shots Halak missed when he was good overall. Still, these moments were tough to deal with at times.

Big picture, he was a solid backup, with some bad team games that went well for him (see: Oct 27 vs NYR) and some decent games that he should have won with a little more help (see: any game that the Perfection Line went cold).

There’s only so much you should expect of a backup, and the Bruins were the only 100-point team in the shortened regular season thanks to sturdy performances by Halak.

Where those expectations should end, however, are in the playoffs. Last season, it could be argued that Halak’s play was good enough for a shot at a playoff start. From what we saw in 2019-2020, that challenge-the-starter vibe did not show as strongly.

The regular season was halted abruptly, and when it resumed, there were a select few players who really looked ready to go. Boston’s goalies were not among them.

So, when Tuukka Rask decided to opt out of the NHL playoff bubble in the middle of the first round against Carolina, everyone took a collective deep breath and hoped - prayed - to get through the rest of that series.

Halak found his rhythm with a few sequential starts, played well, got some help via depth scoring, and the Bruins advanced.

In the second round, Halak continued to take risks that were products of trying to do too much at once - and it’s hard to blame him for trying to save the day, given the play of the team in front of him.

Halak was in good form at the start of the Tampa series, as he stopped 37 of 39 in Game 1 and made 40+ saves in a 4-3 OT loss in Game 2.

After that, the wheels fell off for Halak and the team. He was pulled halfway through Game 3 and Dan Vladar got his first NHL ice time.

Some of it was his fault - for example, the Palat goal he has clear eyes on...

... and in contrast, the next goal in that game was a case of ridiculous luck. How can you blame anyone for this (except maybe Par Lindholm)?

In short, Boston had high expectations for last year, but without their starting goalie, the early exit from postseason play should not be placed squarely on the backup.

Halak had a good run for a couple weeks, only to meet Andrei Vasilevskiy, a recurring Vezina candidate, and the juggernaut that is the Lightning offense.

He fought through the final game, keeping Boston alive into double overtime, and for that, he deserves high marks.

He earned his share of the Jennings Trophy (best goalie tandem) for damn sure.

With one more year of Jaro at $2.25M, let’s hope that disappointing finale gives him a spark of competitiveness to push further this season.

Overall, however, you can’t ask for much more from your back-up goalie.

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