After a dismal preseason, new Boston Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark erased any doubts that lingered from a shaky preseason and back-stopped his new team with 35 saves in a 4-1 win over his former team, the Buffalo Sabres Friday night.
“He was excellent,” Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said in his post-game presser. “Gave us a chance to win, certainly. We rewarded him by finishing a couple plays in the first period even though they were the better team in terms of territorial play, puck possession, etcetera. Good for Linus.
I’m sure he wanted to play well here, specifically, and play well no matter where he played, but more importantly here. Happy for him. He’s worked hard the last couple weeks to get his game in order and tonight he certainly looked that way.”
Despite the Jack Eichel saga and becoming a worse team on paper than last year’s squad that finished dead last in the NHL, the Sabres came into Friday night’s tilt at KeyBank Arena in Buffalo undefeated at 3-0-0. The Bruins meanwhile, were fresh off a sloppy 6-3 loss to the Flyers Wednesday night, and their new goalie was starting his first game since a 4-3 overtime loss to the Capitals on October 6 and his first as a Bruin. Despite an 0-2-0 record and shaky body of work in the preseason, Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, general manager Don Sweeney, and team President Cam Neely all preached patience and faith in Ullmark as the October 16 season opener approached.
“Nothing really negative jumped out at me [from the preseason] to speak of. Obviously, Ullmark we kind of knew he’d have a slower camp than most,” Neely said back on October 14. “He didn’t play [at the end of the season], I think his last game was in early April. So, we kind of expected a bit of a slow start from him. I know Goalie Bob [Essensa] has been working with him and getting him more reps in practice. So we’ll see where that goes as well.”
Well apparently ‘Goalie Bob’ did his job because if not for Ullmark, the upstart Sabres could’ve entered the first intermission up at least 3-0 and went on to rout the Boston Bruins in front of a sparse crowd of 7,820 at KeyBank Arena. Ullmark stopped all 15 shots he faced in the opening frame. The Bruins seemed to feed off Ullmark’s brilliance between the pipes and made the best of their seven shots in the period with wingers David Pastrnak and Tomas Nosek both beating Sabres goalie Craig Anderson.
Linus making his Ullmark pic.twitter.com/eoV1vC3dvU
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) October 22, 2021
Charlie Coyle got his first lamplighter of the season on a powerplay at 5:17 of the second period and with the Bruins being outshot 20-7 but up 3-0 at that point it was clear that Ullmark had set a spell of frustration over his former teammates. Apparently, there was a spell of sorts on Ullmark as well prior to faceoff.
“I really wasn’t thinking, it was more like an out-of-the-body experience,” said Ullmark, asked how he felt during pre-game warmups, working for the visiting team in the building he once called home. “Then I kind of settled in when the puck dropped.”
Ullmark and the Bruins remained settled and calm when the Sabres finally found the back of the net on a Victor Olofsson goal at 14:35 of the third period and sealed the deal on a Taylor Hall empty-netter with 1:32 left in regulation.
“I thought he was awesome,” Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo said of his new goalie. “I think he held us in that game throughout the first two periods, especially. There were some changes we needed to clean up in front of our net a little bit, but he was a brick wall tonight. I think he played very well. I loved his puck play. I connected well with him in the first period playing the puck. I feel like we’re getting a little more comfortable in that regard. I thought his first game was fantastic.”
For Ullmark, it was one of those games he’ll put on his memory mantle.
“It’s definitely gonna be one of those lifelong memories for sure. It was very special,” Ullmark said. “I had a couple of lucky bounces. But that’s the game of hockey, sometimes you have them with you and sometimes you don’t. Today was one of those days where I had them with me, and the guys did a terrific job of putting the puck in the net at the other end.”