Saturday, May 12, 2012

Halak felt helpless as teammates were falling

Ankle injury early in postseason would not allow netminder
to return leaving Blues void of best tandem in NHL this past season

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When his teammate lunged to break up a potential scoring play and tumble heavily into him, Jaroslav Halak immediately knew it wasn't good.

"I knew right away," the Blues' goalie said, referring to teammate Barret Jackman accidentally crashing into him causing a high ankle sprain. "It's one thing to be injured during the regular season and one thing to be injured during the playoffs. You play 82 games just to get in the playoffs and I played one game and one period and that was it.

"It's always tough when teammates play and you just can't do anything."

(Getty Images)
Blues defenseman Barret Jackman (right) collides with goalie Jaroslav
Halak (41) that would eventually lead to Halak's high ankle sprain and
knock the the netminder out of the playoffs.
It was Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against San Jose, early in the second period. The Blues were up 1-0, and Jackman was racing back to break up a potential San Jose goal when he dove towards the Sharks' Martin Havlat. Jackman helped break the play up but in the process of getting to his feet, tumbled into Halak.

Halak lay face first on the ice, and it was first thought that he was hit in the head. After treatment from head athletic trainer Ray Barile, Halak would get to his skates and it was thought he would remain in the game. But he skated off, went back to the Blues' locker room and in essence, his playoffs were finished.

"It's part of the game ... it's the (lousy) part of the game," Halak said. "You just can't do anything about injuries. They happen during the regular season and in the playoffs. It sucks ... you play in the playoffs and it happened so early. I don't wish anybody to get hurt. It was tough to watch the guys. Hopefully in the future it won't happen again."

Brian Elliott, who at the start of the postseason was dealing with an upper-body injury. He was thrust into action and the Blues were able to dispatch the Sharks in five games, as Elliott was 3-0 with a 1.37 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in the series.

But when the heat rose and the Los Angeles Kings were beating the Blues at their own game and Elliott struggled to make saves, there was no buffer for the Blues that they had the luxury of going to throughout the regular season. The Halak-Elliott tandem was what made this duo the Jennings Trophy winners.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock admitted earlier this week that it was a factor in the Blues being swept in the second round.

"Yeah, it was huge," Hitchcock said. "It was a big issue, but what are you going to do?

"Jaro's got a long rehab ahead of him. He's got a lot of work to do before he can get back on the ice and participate. That's just the nature of our game."

Hitchcock used the two-goalie system to perfection throughout the regular season. Why? Because both goalies seemed to know how to push each other.

When one guy's level started to drop off at practice, you knew it would happen in a game, so then you put the other guy in," Hitchcock said. "We knew which guy was hot, which guy was struggling, so we seemed to put the right guy in at the right time all the time."

Elliott was 0-4 with a 3.29 GAA and .854 save percentage against the Kings ... hardly the numbers he put up against the Sharks and the NHL-leading 1.56 GAA and .940 save percentage in the regular season.

"I didn't know what the situation was with Jaro," Elliott recalled after Halak's injury. "It's basically I hopped in there in the first series and you just try to keep it going for the second. I don't think you really change mindsets or anything.

"As a goalie and I think with myself throughout my career, the most pressure that I've had is the one I put on myself. I treated it just like the rest of the season. When you're in, you want to keep that going. When I got in there in the first series, that's how it felt. In the second series, you want to keep it going. The first game, we probably shot ourselves in the foot a little bit and we couldn't get it back for the rest of the games."

Hitchcock was going with a game-by-game prognosis with Halak in the opening series, calling it a lower-body injury. The Blues' netminder, who was 26-12-7 with a 1.97 GAA and .926 save percentage in the regular season, was initially skating and riding the bike on his own.

"Obviously you want to come back as soon as you can, as soon as possible, but if the injury doesn't let you come back, you just have to take your time," Halak said. "It's one thing when you just walk and it's another when you have to put a skate on. You have to do the movements in the crease, you have to go down. That's when the pain kicks in."

Halak's injury would not allow him initially to be ready for the first two games against the Kings, then he was ruled out the entire series and in essence, he was done for the playoffs, although the Blues never publicly stated it.

"It was tough," Halak said. "I thought it was going to be the first series, then I thought maybe two weeks and come back. But it didn't allow me to come back before. It's always tough. ... You want to get out there and make the difference.

"It feels better now. Obviously it feels better but probably I need a little bit more time before it heals properly."

And just like that, the goalie tandem was done for the playoffs and the Blues' season was done. But not without some high praise for a goaltending tandem that Hitchcock on a number of occasions stated that "they are the backbone of our team. They're the story of this season."
(Getty Images)
Brian Elliott picked up where Jaroslav Halak left off in the series
against San Jose but slipped along with the rest of the Blues against
Los Angeles.

"It was a good feeling, but we didn't accomplish anything in the playoffs," Halak said. "Obviously when everybody looks at our regular season, it's been a great season for us. But when you look at the playoffs, we still only won four games. You have to win 16 to win the Stanley Cup, so we were still far away from being there."

Both goalies are under contract for two more seasons, and depending on how things play out in training camp when it is expected to open in mid-September -- barring a new collective bargaining agreement in place -- the Blues could very well work the 1-2 punch again in 2012-13.

"Obviously Ells wants to play more games, I want to play more games," Halak said. "But I think the way he played this season, he deserved to play ... maybe even more.

"Who knows? We'll see what happens next season, but I'm sure next season is not going to be any different from my perspective or his."

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