It’s not hard to see why, with five minutes to play in last night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, Habs’ netminder Jaroslav Halak decided to take advantage of a stoppage in play to skate the bench for a swig of water.

At the time, the Canadiens were clinging to a 2-0 lead, with Halak and the Habs weathering a third-period storm which had the Canucks outshooting the Habs 13-2 when number 41 made his way to the bench for something to cool his parched throat.

Using the opportunity to catch his breath, Halak returned to the goal and finished the job: recording his first shutout in almost one year, and kicking out 34 shots on the night, in a 3-0 victory over Mats Sundin and the Canucks.

Going into the game, head coach Guy Carbonneau said he was looking for some stability in goal, a hot hand he could ride. 

He’s found it.  For now.

Halak was very good against the Senators in a 5-3 win Saturday night.  Last night, he was THE reason why the Canadiens were able to come out of the Bell Centre with two points against a surging Vancouver team.  It was THE outstanding goaltending performance of the season, so far, for the Habs.  And, as a result, the job as this team’s number one goaltender is Halak’s to lose.

Far too often this season, Halak was a .500 goaltender who looked like a .500 goaltender.  As I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, even when the Canadiens were winning in Dec. through early Jan. with Halak in goal, and Price on the injury shelf,  they were winning by scores of 5-4.  Far too often this season, Halak has been an adventure in goal, leaving fans wondering why Marc Denis never got a shot at a starting assignment when recalled from Hamilton.

And why is it that Marc Denis STARTED the season in Hamilton?   Why wouldn’t the Canadiens have kept Denis with the big team as a security blanket in case Price faltered? 

For the same reason G.M. Bob Gainey felt secure enough to trade Cristobal Huet last season. Because the Canadiens’ brass was confident that Carey Price could get the job done as the team’s number one goaltender, just as they were convinced that Jaroslav Halak could be a capable backup.

My, how the tables have turned for these two young netminders.

While the chant of “HA-LAK, HA-LAK” rang through the Bell Centre rafters last night, Price was on the bench,  left to ponder a season that has seen him go from all-star  to has-been in the eyes of many fickle hockey fans in this town.  All at the tender age of 21.

Welcome to Montreal, Carey, where you’re only as good as your last save.

But let’s get serious, folks.  Carey Price will be back.  The question is:  when?

You’ve got to believe that Halak built up a tremendous amount of goodwill with his performance against the Canucks; to the point that, should he falter Friday night in Philadelphia when the Canadiens take on the Flyers, The Coach will be hard pressed to make an immediate switch and go back to Price. 

Of course, should the Habs win with Halak in goal against the Flyers, Carbonneau will not do what he’s done in the past when this team has played on consecutive nights:  switch goaltenders.  A victory in Philadelphia would, you would think, guarantee Halak the starting assignment the following night, when the San Jose Sharks come to town.

However, let’s got get ahead of ourselves, when it comes to the soft-spoken native of Bratislava.  Back-to-back wins do not a season make.  However, by backstopping the Habs to consecutive wins over the Senators and the Canucks,  Halak has helped the Canadiens do something they hadn’t done in more than a month:

Win two straight hockey games.

Can Halak help launch the Canadiens into a three-game winning streak for the first time since the start of the New Year?

I can’t answer that question.  But he WILL be given that opportunity, that’s for sure.

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