Could the Boston Bruins use a goalie rotation in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
The current dip in play of Bruins rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman and hot streak Linus Ullmark is on has the Bruins undecided on who will be their starter come payoff time early next month. A couple of weeks ago, it almost seemed a fait accompli that Swayman, the NHL rookie of the month for February and emerging Calder Trophy candidate would be the goalie to kick off the playoffs for the Bruins but Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy surprised some when he elected to start goalie Ullmark against the Lightning in a huge divisional tilt in Tampa Bay Friday night. Linus Ullmark didn’t disappoint in a 28-save performance that helped the Bruins to a gutsy 2-1 overtime win over the Lightning.
Whether that performance sways things one way or another is yet to be seen, but prior to the game, Cassidy explained his decision to start Ullmark Friday and made it abundantly clear that the pipes for the Boston Bruins in the playoffs are very much up for grabs.
“They’ve both played well for the most part,” Cassidy said hours before faceoff Friday night. “Linus probably has been a little more consistent than Jeremy of late…[Swayman’s] been pretty steady, little bit of a blip here, we’re gonna let him play through it. Hopefully he finds it again and we go right down to the wire with good choices in that regard.”
Cassidy was then asked directly if he was leaning one way or another on whether Swayman or Ullmark would be the starter when the postseason begins. Cassidy even hinted at a goalie rotation in the playoffs.
“Thinking ahead to the playoffs, who would be the guy, we’re undecided right now,” the Boston Bruins bench boss acknowledged. “Could be both. Not sure yet.”
Two weeks ago it seemed a fait accompli that Swayman, the 23-year-old Boston Bruins rookie goalie in the running for the Calder Trophy, would be the team’s No. 1 starter when the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs begin in the first week of May. Things can change quickly though in the NHL and suddenly Linus Ullmark and Swayman are neck and neck in the race to be between the pipes when the real season kicks off.
Heading into Friday night’s tilt with the Lightning, Ullmark had won five straight starts, and had a 1.69 GAA and .931 save percentage over his last six appearances (he relieved Swayman in the third period of the 6-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 29). With the win Friday, the Swedish netminder is now 7-1-0 over his last eight games and has a .941 save percentage during the month of April.
“Some of the havoc that seemed to be happening at the beginning of the year has settled down. Just more under control in every area,” Cassidy said of Ullmark’s recent play prior to the game Friday night.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Swayman allowed four goals on 28 shots in the 4-2 loss to the Red Wings Tuesday and has now just won once in his last three starts. This current speed bump came after Swayman followed up a 5-1-1, 1.13 GAA and a .960 save percentage February performance that earned him NHL Rookie of The Month by going 6-1-1 in his first eight games in March. Swayman has struggled with rebound control and playing the puck but as Cassidy said above, he and his staff believe this mini-slump is ‘a blip’ and his recent mistakes are correctable.
So the 23-year-old rookie will get a chance at redemption but, he may not know if it’s him coming off the bench for the traditional hug with Ullmark after playoff games or vice versa until the regular season ends April 29 in Toronto.