As the Tampa Bay Lightning were preparing for the 2020 NHL Playoffs, there was nothing but uncertainty surrounding hockey. Between the difficulties of bubble life, to the insanity that could be the play-in/ Round Robin games, there were far more questions than answers.
Now, as we start Round 2 of the playoffs, things appear to be relatively calm for Tampa Bay. So far, the NHL’s bubble experiment has been a success, with play on the ice resembling playoff hockey, despite the lack of fans. The Lightning are even facing a familiar foe after working through some inner demons in Round 1 by knocking out the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games.
Yes, once again the Lightning will be facing off against the Boston Bruins in Round 2 of the NHL playoffs. Just two years ago, they found themselves battling the Bruins, knocking them out of the playoffs in five games.
This Bruins squad, however, is better than the one that went rather quietly into the night in 2018. They made it to Game 7 on the Stanley Cup Final in 2019, and won the 2020 President’s Trophy. They have a deep and talented roster that will burn you unless you are playing your best each and every night.
However, due to Tuuka Rask leaving the bubble to tend to a family emergency, suddenly the Bruins have a question in goal. This creates a new, surprising situation for the Lightning, who will be facing Jaroslav Halak as Boston’s starter for Round 2.
Halak Is No Slouch in Net for the Bruins
First, it’s important to give some context to just how storied Halak’s career has been. As a ninth-round selection back in the 2003 draft, he defied all odds, churning out a 14 year NHL career. In 2010, he helped carry the Montreal Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Finals and has 34 playoff starts to his name.
Halak is not an inexperienced goalie coming into his first playoff dance. He has more than 500 career regular-season starts, and he will not be shaken by the bright lights of postseason play.
In Round 1 against the offensively gifted Carolina Hurricanes, he went 3-0, giving up just one goal in two of three starts. Throughout the 2019-20 regular season, he posted a .919 save percentage, going 18-6-6 in 29 starts (He had 31 appearances this season, explaining why those numbers don’t quite line up)
Even if he is 35-years-old, the Bruins are well aware that a veteran goaltender can still carry you to a Stanley Cup victory. To put it simply, if the Lightning underestimates Halak for even a moment, he will shut them down.
Lightning Must Take Play To Halak
With so much riding on Halak’s play, the Lightning can’t let him feel comfortable in the net. Goaltending is about rhythm and momentum, with a hot goaltender being able to carry a team deep in the playoffs. However, as we saw in Round 1, even a hot goaltender like Joonas Korpisalo can be worn down.
Through four games, Korpisalo looked unstoppable, allowing no more than three goals despite an offensive barrage by Tampa Bay. In Game 5, the Lightning finally broke through, scoring two goals in the third period and the eventual series winner in overtime.
If the Lightning can get to Halak in Game 1, scoring two or three goals in the first few periods, they may be able to shake his confidence, throwing him out of his rhythm. From there, he would be chasing the game, potentially forcing the Bruins to play more defensively than originally planned.
Even if he stands strong in Game 1, the Lightning may be able to slowly wear him down by peppering him with shots as they did against Korpisalo. If they can keep the pressure up, eventually they will get those lucky bounces that will end up in the back of the net.
Lightning Can’t Underestimate Halak in Round 2
With so much being different about the 2020 Playoffs, it feels somewhat strange for the Lightning to be facing such a familiar foe in Round 2. No matter what, you can be confident that this will be a long, tough series between two division rivals who are developing a bit of a reputation with each other.
In order for the Lightning to defeat such a strong opponent, they will need to quickly solve Halak. If they can get to him early and often, they may be able to push him off his game or even chase him from the net, forcing Boston’s unproven backup into postseason play.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.