Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Halak named starter for playoff series against San Jose

Elliott still day-to-day with upper-body injury;
Hitchcock said decision became easier

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- There was plenty of drama leading into the Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks. Like all series, there's a storyline and angle from each side.

For the Blues, it was which goalie Ken Hitchcock would go with to open the playoffs.

But a
fter Tuesday's developments of the upper-body injury disclosed for Blues goalie Brian Elliott, Hitchcock's choice as a Game 1 starter against the Sharks Thursday became a no-brainer.
(Getty Images)
Jaroslav Halak has been named the starter for the series opener against
the San Jose Sharks.

Hitchcock said after practice Wednesday that Jaroslav Halak would start the opener and that the hope was that Elliott be available as the backup.

Halak was 26-12-7 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in the regular season.

Elliott, who led the NHL in GAA (1.56) and save percentage (.940) this season, suffered his injury on April 5 against Detroit, an injury that Hitchcock said is very minor. There was a play early in the first period in which Elliott made a save on Pavel Datsyuk and in the process, teammate T.J. Oshie back-checking skid into the scrum and helped knock Elliott back into the goalpost.

Elliott was kept off the ice for practice Wednesday and is expected to back up Thursday night.

"Obviously Halak's starting," Hitchcock joked. "That one's done.

"It made the decision yesterday pretty easy. We'll start with Jaro and like everything else, hope for the best."

The Blues recalled goalie Jake Allen from Peoria on Tuesday in hopes of just using him during practice sessions in the coming days until Elliott is fully recovered. The choice between Halak and Elliott was in a dead heat until Tuesday.

"Yeah, it was a big decision before Elliott got hurt. But we're pretty hopeful that he's going to be able to back up tomorrow and get himself ready, but we're not 100 percent."

Halak, who went on that magical run with the Montreal Canadiens in 2010 in which he helped knock out Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington and Alex Ovechkin, then backed it up by eliminating Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins before succumbing to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Final, will get his first crack at the postseason since that run. He was 9-9 with a 2.55 GAA and .923 save percentage in that playoff season.

"I think it's going to be a good battle. I'm excited," Halak said. "We'll see how it goes. One game at a time. Tomorrow is Game 1 and we need to focus on that one.

"That [playoff run in 2010 is] in the past. Right now is the present. I just need to play simple, play my game and we'll see how it goes. I know in the playoffs, it's a little different game that the regular season, but you still have to do the same job, stop the puck and help the guys. ... Just play and have fun. Don't put any extra pressure on yourself."

Halak, who was 2-0-0 with a 0.50 GAA and .977 save percentage against the Sharks this season, was mentally prepared no matter who Hitchcock was going with.
(Getty Images)
Halak was 2-0 with a 0.50 GAA and .977 save percentage in two games
against San Jose this season.

"No matter whoever [started], we need to play as a team and we need to play for 60 minutes or 60-plus or whatever it takes to win the game," Halak said. "I don't think it matters whoever is the guy. I think both of the goalies needed to prepare the same way, no matter if you play or not. It's still the same approach."

But going against the big-bodied Sharks, Halak is ready to go to battle.

"Playoffs is a different thing than the regular season," Halak said. "I never played them in the playoffs, but we know their team, we know their personality. I know they will probably shoot the puck and [try to] create some rebounds and always put somebody in front of me or Ells. We'll see what happens. One game at a time. We'll see what it brings tomorrow."

In the meantime, Halak will take pressure of the thoughts of a rugged playoff series by not thinking about it too much.

"I don't know. Not thinking about hockey," Halak said. "You don't want to think about hockey too much.

"I think you can start thinking about hockey when you come to the rink. As long as you are out of the rink, don't think about hockey or anything like that. Just focus on spending time with friends and family. Just relax and keep it simple."

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