Let’s not get it twisted: The Boston net belongs to Tuukka Rask.
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy has said as much, and Rask’s finish to the 2021 season — Rask went 7-1-0 with a .923 save percentage upon returning from a back injury on Apr. 15 — should be strong enough to leave you moderately confident in the 34-year-old. (That ‘moderately’ would be a ‘definitely’ had it not been for a slight hiccup to end his season, by the way.)
Buuuuuut… should things haywire with Rask for whatever reason, the Bruins’ braintrust made it abundantly clear that they have no concerns about first-year pro Jeremy Swayman potentially stepping into the No. 1 spot for the Black and Gold.
“There’s not a big book on him for NHL players right now, but what I see with him is just, he’s so calm and poised,” B’s team president Cam Neely said. “And I like how he challenges the shooters, he comes out, he gets to the top of the paint. So, there’s a little less to see when you’re looking where to put the puck. His calmness and his poise has really been impressive to me.
“Just based on the short sample size that we got and the way he’s played, from my perspective and probably the players perspective, they’re going to be confident playing in front of him.”
“It’s a small sample size, but the wins and losses and stops add up,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney echoed. “You look at how your team has played in front of him and what you expect from percentages and high-dangers and situations that he’s handled. Teams that we’ve played against are somewhat common for this season, but we’ve put him on the road, and we’ve put him in situations and he’s handled it well.”
To Sweeney’s point, Swayman’s results do add up. Across the board, too.
The 22-year-old not only finished with the best save percentage among all goalies with at least 10 starts in 2021 (.945), but his all-situation high-danger save percentage of .895 actually ranked as the second-best among NHL goalies with at least 500 minutes played since Apr. 6. (Rask is actually the only goalie with a better high-danger save percentage since then, at .904).
But it’s also the quality of Swayman’s work when it comes to the Bruins’ belief in him. In four total starts against the East Division’s playoff teams, Swayman went 2-2-0, but posted a strong .958 save percentage with stops on all but five of the 119 shots thrown on net by the Isles, Penguins, and Capitals. Swayman even shined in the losses, with a 28-of-29 effort in a loss in Pittsburgh before a 30-of-32 performance in Tuesday’s season finale behind an almost all-Providence skater group.
“We just got to the place where Sway was playing really well, giving us a great opportunity to win each and every night,” said Sweeney. “We reward the players that have done that. I think that’s something that our organization stands by. We’re not trying to rush players, we’re not trying to put players in situations where they can’t handle. [Tuesday] was a great example of, some players would have been intimidated in that situation, and Jeremy wasn’t. It’s the next step, he’s got a lot to still go through, but these are experiences he’ll benefit and our team benefits from.”
In other words, the Bruins clearly have no issues with the potential of having to turn to Swayman if things go south with Rask, be it in terms of either the on-ice results or Rask’s overall health. (Keep in mind that Rask has repeatedly said that he’s still not 100 percent, and the potential of a back-to-back at some point in this series or during the postseason is a definite possibility, making Swayman a definite possibility.)
“There’s still a lot to be determined and there’s plenty of young goaltenders that have taken huge steps forward and minor steps back,” Sweeney acknowledged. “[So] we’ll see, but what we’ve thrown at Jeremy up until this point, he’s handled well, and we expect him to continue.”
“You don’t get experience until you start playing,” said Neely. “So, we’ll see what happens here in the playoffs.”
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.