It’s been nearly three weeks since Tuukka Rask made the decision to retire from the Bruins and the NHL.
Now, that decision didn’t appear to shock those in the B’s organization. They knew that Rask’s recovery wasn’t going as planned once he went back into action in true zero to 60 fashion, and that multiple health issues were popping up. What it did do, however, was throw their plans into net into on-the-fly readjustment, with the potential of three-headed monster with Jeremy Swayman behind Rask and Linus Ullmark turning into an inexperienced-but-connected Swayman-Ullmark duo.
It put ’em back to square one, actually, with the Bruins no longer mapping out a long-term view of their stretch run. This alone was a change from the established norm in Boston, as one of the first meetings of a new season came with Bruce Cassidy, goalie coach Bob Essensa, and Tuukka Rask and his partner in the crease mapping out an all-82 look.
“We didn’t map it out as much because of the newness of Ullmark, for one,” Cassidy said. “We didn’t know how his workload is. Is he a guy that needs consecutive [starts] or does he want to split up at certain times? Some of that was a feel-out process.”
A career-long, oft-injured Sabre prior to his jump to the Bruins, Ullmark has never played more than 37 games in a season.
The Bruins didn’t have any interest in turning him into a 60-game workhorse when they signed him, and instead looked at ways they could ease the strain on his body and utilize him as a strong 1A or 1B option, be it with Swayman or Rask. The Bruins got a brief look at what Workhorse Ullmark would look like, too, when Rask’s body wasn’t responding to rest and the Bruins had to throw Ullmark out there for three starts in five days during a Western Conference road swing. Ullmark was pulled from that third game, though the Bruins said it was more about the team in front of Ullmark than Ullmark himself.
Swayman, meanwhile, is in the first 82-game season of his career. That wall tends to come — and in a major way — for players when they jump from the NCAA to the NHL. Swayman, with just 14 games of AHL experience since the start of last season, has essentially done that, and played 46 total professional games since January 2021.
The Bruins, by the way, are set to enter a stretch that will include 32 games in 65 days. That 32-game sprint will feature five sets of back-to-backs, and five sets of four games in six days. That is a lot of strain and against some stiff competition. And what’s interesting is that neither goalie has experience in this setting. The Sabres were never in contention this time of year during Ullmark’s Buffalo tenure, and Swayman was essentially found money for the Bruins last year.
This time around, there’s legit expectations for this duo to lead and make statements along the way.
“It’s a different animal,” Cassidy admitted of his ‘new’ one-two tandem. “We went into the year with it being more of a competition and a little more open. That’s the way we’re going to keep doing it.”
That competition has aleady come with its highs and lows, as Ullmark led the charge for the Bruins before a slight dip paved the way for Jeremy Swayman’s resurgence, and against some of the league’s top threats. The importance of that latter point cannot be stated enough, and needs to inch closer towards the norm for the Bruins to be considered legitimate.
“I love being in net and being able to get points for this team, so, it’s a good day, and we’re happy with the win,” a smiling Swayman said after his latest passed test, a 28-of-29 win over the Avalanche at TD Garden. “Anytime me or Linus go in net, we both want what’s best for the team, and we want to win.”
“We still have a lot of hockey left, so I don’t think we’re going to get too far ahead of ourselves, honestly,” said Cassidy.
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