The signature moment to date in the career of Team Europe goaltender Jaroslav Halak came in the spring of 2010. A 24-year-old goalie for the Montreal Canadiens at the time, if you could pick him out of a lineup, you knew him as the second man in line to Carey Price in the Montreal crease.
Halak showed he was more than that by backstopping the Habs to the Eastern Conference finals, knocking off Presidents Trophy winner Washington and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh along the way.
The clock struck midnight, however, in the Stanley Cup semifinal, the hopes of Cup No. 25 dashed by way of a five-game drubbing at the hands of Philadelphia. A red-hot Halak was out-dueled by his white-hot counterpart Michael Leighton. The mediocre Canadiens were outplayed by a good Flyers squad that was playing its best hockey at the right time.
It’s not unreasonable to expect a similar outcome in the best-of-three World Cup of Hockey final between Halak’s European club and Team Canada, which kicks off Tuesday night.
Europe isn’t mediocre like that Montreal team, they’re actually pretty good. The problem is they’re facing a Canadian team that’s not only a dream team, but a club that’s firing and clicking on all cylinders. Halak, who has played at his 2010 form, is up against the best goaltender in the world in Price.
Price has stopped pucks at a .948 rate, allowing just five goals on 97 shots faced. Sidney Crosby is playing the hockey of his life, linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand adding new life to his game. The forward and defensive lines are flush with world-caliber players. There’s no letup.
It’s been a great run for Europe, a good, well-built team that flew beneath the radars of everyone going into the tournament. It shouldn’t have; Anze Kopitar and Roman Josi are among the best players in the world while Frans Nielsen, Tomas Tatar, Mats Zuccarello, Marian Gaborik (out with a leg injury), Marian Hossa, Leon Draisaitl, and Zdeno Chara are great assets to any team. At the very least, they’ll put up a fight.
That won’t be enough against Canada, a team too big, too strong, too fast, and too talented for this Europe team to contain.