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Boston Bruins ‘Still Evaluating’ Their Playoff Goaltending Situation

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While the playoffs are probably less than a week away now for the Boston Bruins, they still haven’t made a final decision on a starting goaltender for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s down to either the Carolina Hurricanes or the Toronto Maple Leafs as the two possible first opponents for the Black and Gold and they won’t know that for certain until Tampa Bay clinches the third Atlantic Division slot with one more victory.

The Boston Bruins might have a little more of a concrete idea than they’re letting on for the identity of the Game 1 starter, though, as even Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy admitted that Linus Ullmark probably has the inside edge at this point. That makes all the sense in the world as Ullmark is 4-1-0 with a 1.68 goals against average and .937 save percentage in six appearances during the month of April while Jeremy Swayman has leveled off with a 2.92 goals against average and .895 save percentage over the last month.

“We’re still evaluating that. I think Linus has been ahead of Swayman as of late, numbers-wise anyway,” said Cassidy. “It’s been a little smoother for him. Being playoffs, we’re going to maybe be a little bit more coy about it than we usually would, but we’ll certainly announce it as we get closer [to the playoffs].”

Cassidy said that Ullmark will get the start on Thursday night against the Buffalo Sabres and Swayman will start the regular season finale in Toronto against the Maple Leafs, and then the Boston Bruins will make the goaltending playoff decision shortly after that. Regardless of whether or not it’s Ullmark in Game 1, it feels like there’s going to be more of a two-man rotation in this postseason than there has been in a long time for the Boston Bruins where Tuukka Rask was always the unquestioned playoff goalie during his time in Boston.

In truth, this might be the first time the Bruins have really had a two-man goalie team in the playoffs since the dynamic duo of Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin shared duties in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s for the Black and Gold. Certainly, Cassidy didn’t rule that out when asked about it a couple of weeks ago even before Ullmark created some separation with the way he’s played over the last few weeks.

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“I think it will be a little more open-ended, honestly, than in any other year. Will we run with one guy if he’s on? Absolutely, we’re not going to outthink ourselves there,” said Cassidy. “The discussion with Goalie Bob [goalie coach Bob Essensa] will be when you’re playing every second night, if [the series] starts running on ‘is the guy capable of being at his best to be able to handle that?’ Even when it looks like things are going well, you may have to consider that so you’re not putting the goalie at a disadvantage later.

“What’s the right time to do that is always going to be the tough call. If a guy isn’t ‘on’ then we won’t be afraid to go with the other guy because we’ve seen him play well. So that’s also in our back pocket. It can be tough for the starter sometimes knowing all that, but that’s the way that our year has worked out. Sticking to what we’ve done well all year is use both goaltenders, so we don’t want to completely blow that up. It’s going to be a decision in the moment is the easiest way to say it. It could go one way or the other, but I just know that if we go on the run that we want to…neither one of these goalies has done that at this time of year. So we have to be very mindful of that.”

It sure sounds like a lot of unknown for the Boston Bruins with their goaltending when in year’s past that’s been a stone-cold certainty for the Black and Gold. But the only way to get playoff experience and to build that postseason reputation is by actually playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and Ullmark and Swayman are both in that same victory-hugging boat with the playoffs just two more regular season games away.

Joe Haggerty has covered the Boston Bruins and the NHL for 18 years with NBC Sports Boston, WEEI.com, the Boston Metro and the Woburn Daily Times, and currently serves as lead Bruins reporter and columnist for Boston Hockey Now. Haggs always strives to capture the spirt of the thing any way that he can.

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Chuck Rose

Come on, it’s going to have to be Linus at least in the 1st game of the playoffs. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Jeremy get a chance at some point either, but it’ll be Ullmark at the beginning.

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