Halak has Habs fans believing once again

MONTREAL -- Earlier in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, some intrepid Canadiens fan climbed to the roof of a building on Saint-Antoine Avenue, behind the Bell Centre, and graffitied an elevator shaft with what this city has believed throughout the spring.

Halak is God.

But the devotion for the Slovakian sensation had been wavering in the past 72 hours.

You see, Jaroslav Halak was not very god-like in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, looking merely mortal in allowing 7 goals on just 37 shots. He was pulled in Sunday's Game 1 after allowing 4 goals on 14 shots and totally whiffed on Ville Leino's shot to close out the scoring in a 3-0 loss in Game 2.

But on Thursday, in a must-win Game 3, Halak once again began the resurrection process he has perfected this postseason. He is 4-2 this postseason after suffering a loss and has yet to lose more than two games in a row.

"Jaro stepped it up big time," defenseman Roman Hamrlik said.

And in the process of stepping up, Halak kept his streak of not losing more than two games in a row alive by stopping the first 20 shots he faced from a red-hot Philadelphia team that had won six-straight games and was averaging four goals per game during that stretch.

By the time he finally allowed Philadelphia a goal -- a seeing-eye shot by Simon Gagne with a little more than 11 minutes remaining in the game -- Montreal already led 4-0 in what would become a 5-1 victory that puts the Canadiens back into the best-of-7 series.

"Well, he was better," said Montreal coach Jacques Martin, who may have been toying with the idea of going with backup Carey Price in Game 3. "He made some big saves early in the game, made some real big saves. I think that they had three chances in the first five minutes of the hockey game and he made some big saves and that was big."

Indeed, Halak did make three gigantic saves in the opening minutes to deny Philadelphia the opening goal for the third-straight game. None, however, was bigger than the lightning-fast leg kick to deny a tricky redirection by Claude Giroux.

"After that, I think our team kind of took over and played a strong game at both ends of the ice," Martin said.

Michael Cammalleri scored less than four minutes after the Giroux save and Montreal had its first goal and lead of the series. Tom Pyatt added another goal in the dying minutes of the first period and suddenly Halak had some breathing room, which has been a rarity throughout this 17-game playoff run by the Canadiens.

"I mean, (the first goal) was huge," Halak said. "Especially from the beginning, you know, we needed to get the first goal, and we got it. And everybody was skating hard out there and doing their job."

Halak added to the cause by reprising his role as the coolest customer on the ice for the home side.

Perhaps most impressively, he refused to succumb to the traffic and jostling by the Philadelphia forwards that seemed to unnerve him in the first two games.

After Philadelphia fell behind by three goals, there seemed to be a concerted effort to make contact with Halak.

At one point early on, Aaron Asham poked at Halak's glove well after he had smothered a puck. Throughout the game, other Flyers tried similar tactics.

But the highlight of Halak's composure might have come during a second-period sequence when Philadelphia captain Mike Richards came barging into the crease and repeatedly jostled Halak. The goalie made sure he got a few whacks of his own on Richards -- including a nice slash to the back of Richards' calf -- before skating away and returning to the business at hand.

"This is playoffs," Halak said. "Obviously, they want to crash the net, they want to go in the crease, they want to get me out of the game, and we do the same thing. You can't let that affect you. He pushes you, you push him back. But this is part of the playoffs, and everybody's trying to get under the goalie's skin."