The shots come in hard off Alex Ovechkin's stick. Any NHL player can tell you that. And there easily could be a time when the only thing standing in between those screaming projectiles and the end of the Islanders' season is goalie Jaroslav Halak.
That's enough pressure to rattle even the steeliest of netminders, which is probably why Halak refused to look at it in those terms.
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"I'm not trying to put extra pressure on myself," Halak said Tuesday after the Islanders' final practice before traveling to Washington, where they'll face the Capitals Wednesday night. "Everybody has the same job as the regular season, so I'm not going to try to change anything. Everybody knows that [Ovechkin's] there . . . He's got a good shot. We all know it. In the playoffs, I need to make extra saves."
It's no surprise that Ovechkin's name was mentioned over and over again Tuesday. Though he certainly got plenty of help from teammate Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals winger has been an absolute menace to goalies this season, scoring a league-high 53 goals. He's a veritable virtuoso of the power play -- his 25 extra-man goals were best in the league by a lot (only the Sharks' Joe Pavelski was even close with 19).
But as coach Jack Capuano stressed, Halak is no slouch himself. This will be his fifth trip to the playoffs and his third start against the Capitals this season (Halak was 2-0 with both games going to overtime).
"I have a lot of confidence in him," Capuano said. "If you look back at the playoff series with his previous teams, he's done well . . . I think it's important. When you're the last line of defense -- you talk about if you get to the AFC or NFC championship as a quarterback or you get to the World Series as a pitcher, the goaltending position is no different . . . We are who we are because of the way he's played."
Halak had a .914 save percentage this season, slightly lower than his career average of .919. However, he has performed better than that in his 23 playoff games, owning a .923 save percentage. In 2010, he helped lead the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference finals.
In his last playoff appearance, with the Blues in 2012, he allowed three goals in two games. He also has a brief history with the Capitals -- he played 12 games for Washington before he was traded to the Islanders last May.
He spoke expertly about the playoff experience and stressed the need for balance.
"We need to enjoy it because really, it was tough to get here," Halak said. "The intensity is a little higher as the rounds go on but, as I said, we still need to do the same job -- go out there and do the little things. I need to stop the puck."
Even if it's barreling in from Ovechkin, with his "hard, hard shot" that's "usually in a good spot," he said. Obsessing about that type of thing will only serve to unnerve, and Halak preferred to look at it under his own terms.
"It wasn't easy to get to the playoffs," he said. "Now the fun season starts."