Dan Vladar has never appeared in a National Hockey League game. As a Boston Bruins prospect, he has been recalled from the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Providence, RI, a handful of times, but he has never seen any regular-season action.
That is why Vladar’s latest assignment with the team must have come as quite a surprise for the young goaltender. When the Bruins’ regular No. 1 goalie and Vezina Trophy contender Tuukka Rask opted out of the 2020 playoffs before the Aug. 15 game in Boston’s first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes, it left solid backup Jaroslav Halak as the de-facto starter for the foreseeable future.
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Halak has proven he can handle the stresses of postseason hockey. The Bruins won the three games he has been in net since Rask’s departure and finished off Carolina in five games to move on to Round 2 of the playoffs.
However, the newly minted backup, at least for the time being, has considerably less experience than Halak and has not yet been called on for game action. That would be Vladar.
“If my shot comes, I’m just going to do my best to get a chance and help the team win.”Bruins backup goaltender Dan Vladar in an Aug. 21 media availability.
Vladar, who turned 23 on Thursday, took questions from the media on Friday afternoon and showed considerable poise and calm despite the added stress that he surely feels as the team prepares to move into the second round of the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday night.
In fact, it seems as though the young goalie has had more concerns about adapting to life in “the bubble” in Toronto, isolated from family and friends, than anything else. He told reporters that he celebrated his birthday by eating cupcakes with his teammates. Vladar also said he planned to speak with his sister via FaceTime on Friday, her wedding day.
Despite missing a few important family moments, Vladar expressed how grateful he is to play professional hockey. He also was happy to see the Bruins advancing in the postseason.
Vladar was drafted by the Bruins at 75th overall in the third round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He played for the Chicago Steel for the 2015-16 season and has since bounced between Providence and the Atlanta Gladiators, Boston’s ECHL affiliate.
A Look at the Numbers
In four seasons, Vladar has played 68 games with Providence, putting up a 2.35 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage in that time. His career record with the Baby B’s is 33-22-7, and he has recorded six shutouts.
Those are very respectable numbers for the netminder out of Prague, Czech Republic, to be sure. However, his lack of playoff experience stands out. In fact, Vladar has only played one postseason game for the Providence Bruins, coming in the form of a victory recorded in the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs.
Coupled with the fact that he has never appeared in a regular-season game with the big club, it is understandable that Bruins fans may be a bit apprehensive about Vladar’s chances for success should he hear his number called. But, the team was left with very few backup options when Rask rather abruptly pulled out of the Hurricanes series and returned home to reportedly tend to a family health emergency.
Leaning On Jaro
There’s no doubt the Bruins are likely taking the goaltending situation with a one-day-at-a-time mindset. Obviously, Halak will go in every remaining game for which he is healthy enough to suit up. And, so far, he’s risen to the occasion.
The dilemma for head coach Bruce Cassidy would be what to do if Halak has a bad game or two. All goaltenders have bad games, but this particular one may be asked to take one for the team and stay in a blowout, instead of Boston turning to someone with zero NHL experience to try to stop the bleeding.
In addition to Rask, Vladar and Halak, the Bruins’ brought goaltender Maxime Lagace into the bubble as part of the playoff roster. As a result of the unique circumstances surrounding playoff hockey in a pandemic, that means the team still has three goaltenders available to suit up.
In the Wings
Unlike Vladar, Lagace does have some NHL experience. The 27-year-old Quebec native appeared in a total of 17 games over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons with the Vegas Golden Knights. However, he has also not been in a playoff game, and his numbers in the regular-season contests in which he played were not great.
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Specifically, Lagace has a 3.92 GAA and a .868 save percentage in his NHL action. In addition, he has not spent nearly as much time in the Bruins organization as his younger counterpart, so it is easy to see why Cassidy and general manager Don Sweeney would feel more comfortable turning to the slightly less experienced Vladar in this time of need.
The bottom line is, Halak is the guy, and so far he has earned that title. And, all indications are, if Vladar is needed, he is ready to give it his all and do whatever he can to advance the Bruins’ 2020 Stanley Cup dreams.
I am a 46-year-old journalist living in the greater Pittsburgh area with my husband and two cats. I am a proud Penn State University alum. Hockey is life. Not much else needs to be said.