Boston Bruins

The Bruins remain unsure who will get the nod in goal for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, between Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark. And Game 2, Game 3, and beyond. Could the answer be a little column A, little column B?

They ended up needing both on Thursday night alone, when Ullmark started and stopped all eight shots in the first period before exiting the Bruins’ 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators. Swayman entered in relief and allowed three goals on 24 shots, but did stop 11-of-12 at 5-on-5 and made nine saves in the third period, including four on high-danger scoring chances.

Thursday’s third period may be the spark Swayman needed to get back on track, and it may have to be. But if both goalies are healthy at the start of the playoffs, is there a chance both would get to play?

That’s what 98.5 The Sports Hub’s own Ty Anderson seems to believe, based on his conversation with me in the newest episode of the Sports Hub Underground podcast. You can listen to the full episode below, but the goaltending discussion starts around 36-minute mark. Ullmark has significantly outplayed Swayman for the Bruins as of late. If he gets back on the ice soon, and if Swayman can’t turn it around down the stretch, Bruce Cassidy will have an interesting decision to make in Game 1.

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“I think if I was making that call right now, it’s Ullmark,” Ty said Wednesday, prior to the Ottawa game. “Swayman’s gonna get a chance here to get his game right. They’ve got some key games here … so, you’re gonna have games where you have to go back to Swayman.”

Ullmark left the game after an Erik Brännström shot hit him in a relatively unprotected area of his helmet. He told team trainers he wasn’t feeling good, so he essentially pulled himself from the game, rather than by a concussion spotter. So, for now, Ullmark’s status is shrouded in mystery.

But what if both goalies are healthy and playing well by the time the playoffs start in a couple of weeks? It may not be so simple as to run Swayman every night. The 23-year-old has already compiled the biggest single-season workload of his professional career. He’s up to 41 combined games between Boston and Providence in the 2021-22 season. He never started more than 35 games at the University of Maine. How he looks in start No. 50, 55, etc. is uncharted territory.

Ty believes the Bruins would seriously consider more of a platoon-type system than roll with an undisputed every-game starter – and that they’ve thought about it before.

“I’m curious to see what kind of playoff goalies both these guys are,” Ty said. “I think now more than ever, with Tuukka [Rask] being gone … there’s always been that urge, or that curiosity, to try two goalies in the playoffs. They thought about it with [Anton] Khudobin, they thought about it with [Jaroslav] Halak. This might be the time that they actually do it, because they have two guys that they’re like, ‘We’ve got to find out what we have here, one guy’s the future, the other guy’s here for four years, so we’ve got to know what they look like in the playoffs.'”

If Ullmark is dealing with a long-term injury, this whole idea may be rendered moot. But it continues to look more like the Bruins will need Ullmark back as badly as any other injured player in their lineup.

Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.


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Bruins still unsure who will get net as Game 1 starter

  • MONTREAL, QC - MARCH 21: Jeremy Swayman #1 of the Boston Bruins tends net against the Montreal Canadiens in overtime at Centre Bell on March 21, 2022 in Montreal, Canada. The Boston Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

    MONTREAL, QC – MARCH 21: Jeremy Swayman #1 of the Boston Bruins tends net against the Montreal Canadiens in overtime at Centre Bell on March 21, 2022 in Montreal, Canada. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

    Given the call as the team’s Opening Night starter, and one of the hottest goaltenders on the planet upon his recall from the AHL earlier this year, the 23-year-old Swayman was at one point considered the no-brainer, easy-call for Game 1.

    But the first-year pro is going through a bit of a slump right now, with three wins and an .883 save percentage in his last six decisions. This downhill slide even came with the first early hook of Swayman’s career, as the Bruins lifted Swayman from their Mar. 29 head-to-head with the Leafs after Toronto hammered him for six goals on 25 shots through 40 minutes of action.

    “This is Jeremy’s first real kind of — since he’s been here, really — little bit of a blip here,” Cassidy said. “We’re going to allow him to play through it.”

    Now, the worry for some is that the proverbial rookie wall has come for Swayman. This is his first 82-game grind — keep in mind that he turned pro during Providence’s New England-only, shortened 2021 season and joined the Bruins during last year’s 56-game season — and he’s already played 39 games between Boston and Providence this season. His previous high: 35 for the University of Maine in 2018-19. And for whatever it’s worth, that ‘wall’ always seems to come harder for players jumping from the NCAA to the NHL.

    Assuming he’s not completely fried for 2022, which I must admit seems unlikely given the way they’ve managed him with rest this season and the preparation he put in over the offseason as the potential guy for the Bruins, Swayman should have plenty of opportunities to bounce back and potentially reclaim his status as the postseason starter favorite.

    And if there’s one thing that Swayman has shown in 2021-22, it’s that he can bounce back. In 12 decisions following a loss this season, Swayman is 8-3-1 with a devastating .941 save percentage. It takes a lot to completely rattle Swayman out of control.

  • Jan 12, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) gets set for the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Jan 12, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) gets set for the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

    But Ullmark isn’t going to let Swayman reclaim his No. 1 status without a legitimate-but-friendly push.

    In net for eight games since Mar. 15, Ullmark has posted a 6-1-0 record and .932 save percentage.

    That .932 is third-best among a group of 30 goalies with at least eight appearances since then (only the Wild’s Cam Talbot at .933 and Colorado’s Darcy Kuemper at .947 have been better), and the one loss was a 27-of-30 performance in Washington where Ullmark did everything he could to keep the Bruins afloat.

    Ullmark has also thrived beyond the raw data over that nearly month-long sample, too, with the fifth-best goals saved above average (5.05) and third-best high-danger save percentage (.873) among the 33 goaltenders with at least 400 all-situation minutes played since Mar. 15.

    It’s quite a run, to say the least.

    “Rebound control’s better, recoveries from rebounds [are] more under control,” Cassidy said of Ullmark’s improvements. “I think at the start of the year, there was a lot of scrambling to get back into position. He’s a big guy, so it happens, but not nearly as much as before. He’s cleaner around the pucks around the front of the net in terms of getting them out of harm’s way, whether that’s paddled down or what not. Just some of the havoc that was happening at the start of the year has seemed to dissipated. Just more under control in every area.”

    Two potentially telling showings for Ullmark and the Bruins given their potential playoff opponent? Ullmark stopped all seven shots in a third-period relief performance against the Leafs in March and posted a 28-of-29 victory over the Lightning last Friday. The latter means much more than the former, but still, those are notable efforts.

  • Feb 1, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) and goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) skates to the bench after a game against the Seattle Kraken at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Feb 1, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) and goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) skates to the bench after a game against the Seattle Kraken at the TD Garden. (Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports)

    Honestly, trying to decide who’s going to be the playoff starter here on Apr. 12 is relatively pointless.

    It’s been a year of high highs and low lows for both goaltenders, and the Bruins have another 10 games on this rollercoaster to see where they land. That 10-game finish will come with some key and undeniably starter-determining games for the Bruins, with showdowns against the Blues and Penguins (two times each), Rangers, Panthers, and Maple Leafs on deck.

    For the Bruins, there seems to be a focus on riding Ullmark’s hot streak and getting Swayman right.

    Should that happen, the Bruins could be positioned for a postseason that features what their 72-game year has come with, and that’s a rotation of two goaltenders who have more often than not done their job when called upon.

    This is something that Cassidy has talked about before, but this is absolutely the ‘realest’ the idea has ever been, with Tuukka Rask no longer in the picture and the Bruins looking at that aforementioned true unknown without a lick of postseason starter experience in their goalie room.

    “Hopefully [Swayman] finds [his game] again and we go right down to the wire with good choices in that regard,” Cassidy said.

NEXT: Bruins desperate for something to bounce their way