ST LOUIS – Every Olympic year, there are unexpected surprises, some good and some not so good. In Vancouver at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Slovakia, backstopped by Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak, pulled off perhaps the best unexpected showing by a team in decades.
After losing to the strong Czech Republic squad in the first preliminary game, Halak stopped 36 of 37 shots on the way to a 2-1 shootout victory against the favored Russians. Slovakia closed out the three-game, preliminary round with a 6-0 victory over Latvia clinching a wild-card spot in the qualification playoffs.
Halak gave the Slovakians strength defeating Norway 4-3 before shocking Sweden by that same score. In the semi-finals, Canada barely squeaked by Slovakia who came back from a 2-0 deficit late in the game and came close to tying the game.
In the bronze medal game, Finland defeated Slovakia 5-3. In finishing 4th place in the tournament, it represented the highest ranking of any Slovakian team, besting their 5th place finish at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Halak was a large part of Slovakia’s success and will look to repeat his performance despite a prediction the Slovakians are expected to finish no higher than 8th.
Ever since he backstopped the surprising Montreal Canadiens to the 2010 NHL Eastern Conference Final before losing to the Philadelphia Flyers 4 games to 1, he has been a man on a mission, but now, takes up space in the crease in the Gateway City.
Traded for Lars Eller in the 2010 off-season, Halak has been sharing the crease in St. Louis with Brian Elliott. After three years of respectable results with no tangible success in the playoffs, Halak appears to be playing in a different stratosphere this season.
Of the Blues 57 games, Halak has played in 39 of them, starting in 37 posting a 24-8-4 record, 2.26 goals against average with a 0.915 save percentage and four shutouts. While he has shown a propensity to allow the odd goal in, he has been relatively sharp in being a huge part of the Blues rank among the elite NHL clubs.
Halak is expected to be the number one goalie for Slovakia and will be backed up by Montreal’s Peter Budaj. The Slovakians have a tough preliminary round which opens against the United States on Thursday, February 13th at 7:30 AM ET on TSN, NBCSN. They then face Slovenia in the second game on Saturday, February 15th at 3:00 AM ET on SNET, NBCSN before finishing with their final game of the preliminary round against Russia on Sunday, February 16th at 7:30 AM ET on USA.
As for the rest of the Blues, I will be providing previews and updates throughout the tournament. The United States will be represented by center David Backes, right wing T.J. Oshie and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. Canada will be represented by defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. Russia will be represented by right wing Vladimir Tarasenko. Sweden will be represented by left wing Alexander Steen and center Patrik Berglund. Although named to the Czech Republic team, center Vladimir Sobotka is out with a knee injury.
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