It's somewhat ironic that Jaroslav Halak's second straight shutout Saturday night in a 3-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres matched a feat last accomplished by Cristobal Huet in March of 2006.
I don't distinctly remember those games, even though I covered the second one. But what I do remember is the sound of 21,273 fans at the Bell Centre standing on their feet, chanting Huet's name as he was announced as the game's first star in a 1-0 win over the New York Rangers.
Huet, much like Halak, was a goalie who had never been given a legitimate shot at a number one job until he arrived in Montreal. Yet even though he was being showered with adulation at the time, he always stayed level, never once getting caught up in the hype machine that was surrounding him.
I asked him at the time how he did it, and here's what he said after being asked the same question three or four times: "I want to try and keep a low profile because we're still a fragile team. I don't want to think about the two shutouts, it's the team that's more important right now."
Fast forward four years to modern day Montreal, where Halak is spinning a tale very similar to Huet. His first star announcement Saturday night nearly blew the roof off the Bell Centre, and I felt kind of bad for third star Sergei Kostitsyn and second star Dominic Moore, because I got the distinct impression the crowd was saving itself for Jaro.
When he came out, it was magical. Except Halak, with his mask still on, made a very quick spin on the ice and took off for the dressing room, almost as if he didn't want to soak it all in. Didn't want to get drunk off that intoxicating elixir of the public's love.
Just like Huet, Halak credited the team for playing well the past two games. And just like I did to Huet four years earlier, I tried to understand how Halak manages to brush off the waves of success that are coming at him fast and furious.
"You are as good as you were last night, or tonight," Halak said. "Tomorrow is another day. We can enjoy it tonight, but there are more games. So you have to stay even in between. You can't go too high."
Halak's record improved 26-12-3, but here's a more mind-boggling stat for you. The Canadiens as a team improved to 33-3-3 when they score at least three goals. Halak is 23-2-0 in those games, Carey Price is 10-1-3. Forget for an instant that the Canadiens have scored three times for Halak 11 more times than they have for Price, but just how great has the team's goaltending been when they've only lost six times all season when scoring three goals? Maybe if they worked on doing that more often, this would be a pretty impressive team.
Jacques Martin said afterwards that "when we forecheck, we're a very good hockey team." So I'm wondering why the team didn't forecheck at all with a 2-0 lead in Buffalo on March 24. Or with a 1-0 lead against the Carolina Hurricanes last week? Or a 1-0 lead in Philadelphia last night?
"What I liked about this game is that we're learning," Martin said. "With everything we did wrong last night, we came out with a lot of poise tonight, a lot of confidence with the puck."
The Canadiens are still in sixth spot in the East, and Buffalo dropped back to third with the loss. That means if nothing changes, these two teams would meet in the first round of the playoffs. Based on the last two games these teams have played, would you not be a little confident heading into that series? Just a little?
I was asking Andrei Markov that very question after the game, and he didn't even let me finish.
"Wait," he said, holding up his hands and shaking his head, a little unimpressed with my line of questioning.
"What," I asked, "you don't want to talk about the playoffs?"
With a very serious face, he looked at me and simply said, "No."
End of interview.
That, in a nutshell, tells you something about Andrei markov, and why I believe he should be captain of this team. Never too high, never too low, ultra-competitive. And even though things are looking good for a playoff berth right now, Markov knows the Habs are not out of the woods just yet.