The Montreal Canadiens' surprising run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2010 can be attributed to one man and one man only.
(OK, Mike Cammalleri did help a bit.)Washington Capitals and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins was the announcement that that Jaroslav Halak had officially arrived.
Of course, we know that a month after his final game with the Canadiens, GM Pierre Gauthier had to choose between his two restricted free agent netminders and decided on the younger one who, in his eyes, had more long-term potential.
And when the Departed One returns to Bell Centre on Tuesday night for the first time since May 22, 2010 -- Game 4 against the Philadelphia Flyers -- he'll step out on the ice to a louder than usual crowd chanting his name, no question about it. There will be no derision sent Jaroslav Halak's way, and nor should there be. The Canadiens' 2010 playoff run was memorable because of Halak's heroics in slaying of two conference powers.
But for as much as Gauthier was killed for dealing Halak, as well as the return of Lars Ellers and Ian Schultz, things worked out for both sides after the June 2010 trade that sent Halak's rights to the St. Louis Blues.
Last season, Carey Price, who saw his No. 1 job usurped by Halak during the 2009-10 season, put up career-best numbers in wins (38), goals-against average (2.35), save-percentage (.923), and shutouts (8). After signing a 4-year, $15 million deal with the Blues after the deal, Halak played well posting career highs in games played (57), wins (27) and shutouts (7) in his first year as a full-time No. 1.
This year, both are experiencing frustrating seasons in different respects.
Price and the Habs sit a disappointing 12th in the Eastern Conference, costing Head Coach Jacques Martin his job in December. Halak and the Blues struggled out of the gate, and as the club was going through a head coaching change of their own, free agent signee Brian Elliott claimed the No. 1 job in St. Louis by winning 13 of his first 15 starts. Since December, however, Halak has rebounded, not losing in regulation in nine starts winning five of eight, but the job for now, still remains Elliott's.
(Kudos should go to Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock for understanding the sentiment that will be inside Bell Centre with Halak's return. Elliott posted a shutout over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night, but Hitchcock is bending his rule that a goaltender who does so will play the next game.)
After the "Ja-ro!" chants end and the puck drops, Halak will be another returning hero wearing opposing colors. For as much as some Habs fans wish Halak well, the game is an important two points for both teams. Montreal is in the midst of attempting to derail a tailspin and St. Louis is currently fighting for the top spot not only in the Central Division, but also the Western Conference.
It would be only fitting that Halak channels his 2010 playoff performance for a one-night-only show in front of the Montreal faithful, who wouldn't mind it -- as long as the Canadiens score one more than the Blues.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy
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