All anyone wants to know is, can he keep it up?
Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak is the flavor of the month in the NHL after he nearly singlehandedly orchestrated a first-round upset of top-seeded Washington and potential league MVP Alexander Ovechkin in the first round of the playoffs.
But what I ask is, if he keeps it up, will it still be enough to take down the defending Stanley Cup-champion Penguins? And my short, sweet answer is: No.
Pittsburgh is just too deep and fast up front to be contained. And Pittsburgh’s secondary scorers like Pascal Dupuis, Alex Ponikarovsky and Jordan Staal are much less likely to take an Alexander Semin-sized siesta for the entirety of a best-of-seven series. Halak might continue to be great and increase his free-agent value for the summer, but he won’t be able to take down the Penguins all by himself.
The Canadiens will win if … Halak is nothing less than he was in the Capitals series, while Montreal’s defensemen behind Hal Gill and Josh Gorges lift their games to the level of the Habs’ top pair. That means you, Ryan O’Byrne and Roman Hamrlik. Pittsburgh is at least a two-line threat and there cannot be any shifts off by the Montreal blueliners. The Habs have to take advantage of almost every power play they earn as well.
The Penguins will win if … they don’t get psyched out by Halak and continue to not only fire plenty of shots on goal, but also get him moving and try to get under his skin. Mike Rupp and Matt Cooke will no doubt play as big a role in that effort as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will play in making the Habs pay for any and all penalties their defenseman will inevitably take trying to catch the Pens’ forwards. Staal and the Pens’ top penalty-killers will also have to be on top of their game.
My pick: Penguins in 6. Sooner or later the Halak magic will wear off, and Crosby is, for sure, the anti-Ovechkin. The Pittsburgh captain will not let his team’s caliber of play tail off even for a second. But the Habs’ momentum heading into the series should be good to earn them a couple wins.