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Practice Report

Jaroslav Halak embracing next challenge

Team Europe goalie ready for tough test in World Cup semifinals against Team Sweden

by Tim Campbell @NHLTim / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Team Europe is expecting more of the same from starting goalie Jaroslav Halak when it plays Team Sweden in a World Cup of Hockey 2016 semifinal on Sunday (1 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Halak has played every minute of the tournament for Team Europe and has stopped 105 of 111 shots for a .946 save percentage and a 1.98 goals-against average. That includes a shutout against Team USA on Sept. 17 and an overtime win against Team Czech Republic two days later. In Team Europe's only loss in the preliminary round, Halak was strong but overpowered by Team Canada, facing 46 shots in a 4-1 loss last Wednesday.

"I think he's great so far in the tournament," Team Europe forward Tomas Tatar said. "If he's going to be just how he was, I think we're going to be great. Jaro has done a tremendous job for us so far and we're really happy to have him."

Better-than-average goaltending has given Team Europe its opportunity in the final four of the World Cup. Forward Frans Nielsen had plenty of experiencing watching Halak when the latter is on top of his game when they played together for the New York Islanders.

"I've got a lot of confidence playing with him for a couple of years in New York and he's really consistent," Nielsen said. "You just know with him in net, he'll give you a chance every night."

Video: EUR@CAN: Halak flashes glove to deny Stamkos

The pressure in Halak's assignment on Sunday will be similar to that of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, according to Team Europe defenseman Mark Streit.

"I think when you get a tournament, goaltending is always a big part of being successful," he said. "It's like the playoffs or getting into the playoffs or playing for the Stanley Cup. We just want him to play his game and keep doing it. We want to support him and if we have a breakdown, we have a lot of confidence he's going to make the save. That's a huge advantage for us."

"He just finds a way. He's really athletic and well-positioned. That save he made against Canada (on Steven Stamkos), I thought that puck was going to be in. Somehow, he found a way. Incredible. And he's not one of those huge goalies. He's not (Team Finland goalie) Pekka Rinne or those guys that are 6-foot-4. He's just really athletic and quick with great positioning."

Halak said after practice on Saturday that he believes he'll be busy against Team Sweden, much like he was during Team Europe's 6-2 win at Verizon Center on Sept. 14 in the pretournament finale for both teams. Halak made 34 saves.

"I think they'll be much better than the (pretournament) game against us," Halak said. "I think we kind of surprised them and now they know what our game is about, so they'll adjust to it. We'll need to bring our 'A' game and play the full game.

"Last time we played them I was busy and I expect them to play hard so I think I'll be busy [Sunday]."

The semifinal is an afternoon start, something Halak experienced three times during the 2015-16 NHL season.

That was the subject of a 1-on-1 conversation Halak had with Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger for several minutes at the end of practice here on Saturday.

"We've been chatting here and there through the tournament," Krueger said. "Often it's just about the path to the game. For me, that conversation had more to do with the 1 o'clock start because he's not that familiar with it.

"I was just curious of anything he would need that way and how he was going to construct his morning. It's a new world for a lot of the players that don't play consistently on the east coast. Today it was more about that. We know hockey-wise he's ready and that's all taken care of."

Halak shrugged his shoulders when asked about the afternoon start.

"We'll see," he said. "We don't usually get to play the 1 o'clock games. You just have to wake up, get something to eat and go to the rink and play the game instead of practicing. It'll be weird, but at the same time it's exciting to play the game."

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