Boston Bruins

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As the Bruins overwhelm opponents, unheralded is Linus Ullmark giving them the chance.

Boston has stormed to a massive lead atop the NHL standings in the first half of the 2022-23 season, on the strength of a potent combination of scoring and goaltending. But plenty of their wins could’ve easily slipped in the wrong direction if not for what happened in net, mainly from Ullmark, the current favorite to win the Vezina Trophy.

The Bruins are going to rank highly in all goaltending stats, thanks to Ullmark, but it’s notable that they rank better in goals allowed in the first period (2nd) than the second period (5th). That’s because Ullmark has been much more than a frontrunner. He’s been an early-game savior.

  • Jan 18, 2023; Elmont, New York, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) makes a save against New York Islanders center Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) during the second period at UBS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Jan 18, 2023; Elmont, New York, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) makes a save against New York Islanders center Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) during the second period at UBS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

  • Offensively, the Bruins are merely tied for 16th in first-period goals (39), but fifth in second-period goals (60) and first in the third period (66). Some empty nets in there. But they’ve had a knack for elevating late, and taking over games as soon as they break through. Meanwhile, Ullmark has kept them in games early, buying them time to get the one break they need to get rolling.

    Among 32 netminders with at least 400 minutes played in tie games, Ullmark ranks first with a .950 save percentage (via Natural Stat Trick). To be fair, the Bruins have made it relatively easy on him. He’s faced the sixth-fewest high-danger shots per 60 minutes (7.4) while tied. But he’s also seventh in high-danger save percentage (.872).

    ELMONT, NEW YORK - JANUARY 18: Linus Ullmark #35 of the Boston Bruins makes the third period save on Zach Parise #11 of the New York Islanders at UBS Arena on January 18, 2023 in Elmont, New York. The Bruins defeated the Islanders 4-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    ELMONT, NEW YORK – JANUARY 18: Linus Ullmark #35 of the Boston Bruins makes the third period save on Zach Parise #11 of the New York Islanders at UBS Arena on January 18, 2023 in Elmont, New York. The Bruins defeated the Islanders 4-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

  • Obviously, Ullmark hasn’t played a ton while trailing in games. He’s 52nd out of 62 goalies with at least 200 minutes playing from behind (262:25). But out of that group, Ullmark has a .956 save percentage, second only to the Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin (.957). He’s also posted a .957 save percentage while down one goal, the best mark among 32 goalies with at least 200 minutes in that spot.

    That version of Ullmark needed to show up on Wednesday night in New York, when the Bruins fell behind 1-0 to the Islanders and didn’t tie it until almost halfway through the game. Their first-half MVP was undoubtedly Ullmark, who turned aside 19 of 20 shots in the first two periods. The Bruins won despite the Isles holding a 36-23 advantage in scoring chances, and were down just one entering the second period despite a 14-6 deficit in that department.

  • Teammate Brad Marchand credited Ullmark’s steady presence in goal for the Bruins’ ability to stay composed amid adversity and come back to take the win.

    “He’s been phenomenal all year. Every night he gives us an opportunity to win, and tonight’s another example of that,” Marchand said after the game on NESN. “He makes those saves that allow us to kind of calm down and breathe and regroup, and he’s the best one in the league right now, so we’re lucky to have him.”

    ELMONT, NEW YORK - JANUARY 18: Linus Ullmark #35 of the Boston Bruins catches a first period shot by Anthony Beauvillier #18 of the New York Islanders at UBS Arena on January 18, 2023 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    ELMONT, NEW YORK – JANUARY 18: Linus Ullmark #35 of the Boston Bruins catches a first period shot by Anthony Beauvillier #18 of the New York Islanders at UBS Arena on January 18, 2023 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

  • Some of the Bruins’ more convincing wins against teams in the playoff race – 4-1 over the Islanders Wednesday night, 3-1 over the Devils on Dec. 28 – required a hot start from Ullmark to settle things down for the guys in front of him. On that night in New Jersey, Ullmark stopped all 16 Devils shots in the first period, keeping the game tied despite that early onslaught. It’s made his superb season sneaky-even more superb than you might think.

    But the most impressive thing is just the consistency. Both the production and the personality. And Ullmark even admitted after the game that he’s facing a new kind of challenge in his career to keep playing at a high level for a team looking ready for a deep playoff run.

    “It has been overwhelming, I’m not going to lie, it’s been a different kind of a season, definitely,” Ullmark said. “It’s taken a lot of me mentally to keep going and not be satisfied, because it’s hard. If you had the luxury now half the season to be at this point – usually you’re at this point at the end of the season. I have a lot of gratitude for all the boys in here that go to work every single night, so, kudos to them.”

    ELMONT, NEW YORK - JANUARY 18: Linus Ullmark #35 of the Boston Bruins makes the save as William Dufour #14 of the New York Islanders looks for the rebound at UBS Arena on January 18, 2023 in Elmont, New York. The Bruins defeated the Islanders 4-1 as Ullmark recorded his 100th NHL win. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    ELMONT, NEW YORK – JANUARY 18: Linus Ullmark #35 of the Boston Bruins makes the save as William Dufour #14 of the New York Islanders looks for the rebound at UBS Arena on January 18, 2023 in Elmont, New York. The Bruins defeated the Islanders 4-1 as Ullmark recorded his 100th NHL win. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

  • The Bruins are no doubt grateful for the way Ullmark has started games for them, especially some of the biggest ones against the best opponents. His early dominance was on display for the entire hockey world in the Winter Classic. At this point, all Ullmark has left to prove is that he can look like this in the playoffs.

    They’ve needed it at times in the regular season, and they’re probably going to need it in the spring. Hopefully the summer.

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  • 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. Check out all of Matt’s content here.