Jeff Halpern’s unofficial Welcome to the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs moment came when he took a high-sticking penalty in the second period of Game 6 on Wednesday night. Back in the lineup for the first time since March 23, replacing the injured Jay Beagle, it wasn’t the moment Halpern wanted.
“I was probably just starting to get my legs at that point,” Halpern said.
Fortunately for the veteran, the Caps killed off the double minor, preventing a disastrous case of deja vu. And fortunately for the Caps, Halpern filled in admirably for Beagle, something he might have to do again in Game 7 against the New York Rangers on Saturday night.
“I thought he had good pop out there. He played very well and took big faceoffs,” coach Dale hunter said. “Your timing can be off sitting for seven weeks, but he looked fine and did a good job for us.”
Beagle’s status is questionable, though he has not skated since Monday night’s Game 5, when he took a slap shot from Anton Stralman off his right leg.
“We just move forward, man. I mean, Beagle’s a great player, and we’d welcome him back, but you add in a former captain of the Washington Capitals in Jeff Halpern, they’re cut from the same mold,” forward Brooks Laich said. “Halpy’s great on draws, great penalty killer, coming in with a world of enthusiasm. You take one out, but I thought Jeff did a great job of filling that hole.”
Halpern hadn’t played since March 23, and though every player talks about needing a couple of shifts to physically get back into a groove, there’s a mental challenge, too.
“No. It’s not an easy; the most difficult part is not being in the games. No matter what anyone says you don’t feel as part of the team,” Halpern said. “I think just mentally trying to keep that game intensity around somehow, whether it was three-on-three games with the coaches or just trying to do something. Obviously there’s cycles because there’s a wide range of emotions. You hope you catch yourself on the upswing.”
Halpern wasn’t taking a whole lot of penalty-killing minutes Beagle left behind; those were spread around to Laich, Matt Hendricks, Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson. But the 35-year-old did take some key faceoffs.
As the only other right-handed center on the team other than Beagle, that’s a role Halpern has no other choice but to fill.
“You need that, especially on the right side. It’s key. You see it not just our series but if you watch all the game faceoffs are a big part of it,” Hunter said. “Everybody puts pressure on the centerman, but it’s everybody involved in a faceoff.”
Having not played in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, Halpern has never been on the happy side of the handshake line in his NHL career. Now he gets a chance.
“Obviously they’re going to go back and they’re going to come hard, especially in their building and it’s up to us to come out and match that and put forth another good effort,” Halpern said.