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Haggs: Goaltending Proves To Be Big Playoff Edge For Bruins



Boston Bruins

BOSTON – Heading into their first round playoff series, one of the big differences on paper between the Boston Bruins and the Florida Panthers was the status of their goaltending situation. The B’s had the Vezina Trophy favorite in Linus Ullmark, who led the NHL in wins, save percentage and goals against average by a wide margin, and he teamed with young Jeremy Swayman as the best goalie tandem in the league on the way to winning the Jennings Trophy by one of the widest margins in NHL history.

On the other side, the Panthers have a $10 million per season goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky that’s got the resume and the Vezina Trophy but appears unable to consistently play at his formerly elite level as a 34-year-old netminder. And they have 30-year-old journeyman Alex Lyon, who was in the right place at the right time with the Panthers to help lead them into this spring’s playoffs with some inspired play down the stretch.

But it’s a massive mismatch given the current state of goaltending for both hockey clubs, and that’s exactly the way it played out in Monday night’s 3-1 victory for the Black and Gold at a raucous TD Garden. Lyon allowed three goals on 16 shots in the first 40 minutes of the game while alternating between brilliant and leaky, but a pair of soft goals allowed in the second period ended up burying the Panthers, who had outshot the Bruins by a 24-16 margin through two periods.

The first goal that Boston scored was legit, a power play David Pastrnak strike off a slick, no-look backhanded pass from Tyler Bertuzzi at the front of the net. But the first Bruins goal of the second period was soft a goal as one is wont to see in the Stanley Cup playoffs as a Brad Marchand wrist shot from beyond the left circle handcuffed both Lyon and his flailing glove hand.

Essentially, Lyon looked like an AHL goalie slapped into a Stanley Cup playoff spot during that sequence.

At that point, the TD Garden crowd began warming up with the singsong “Lyon! Lyon! Lyon!” chant that’s always a bad sign for a playoff goalie in the opposition’s building. Matters became worse later in the second period as Lyon stopped a Tyler Bertuzzi rebound attempt but couldn’t find the puck that was resting on top of his leg pad. An alert Jake DeBrusk chopped at it from up high and knocked it into the net without any goalie interference, and the Bruins had another goal courtesy of Lyon’s ability to lock down the situation.

“It went low to high, and then I just tried to get to the net. Tried to fight for space, and I just saw the puck. I just saw the puck on his pad,” said DeBrusk. “I think I was getting checked, and I just tried to dive to get it, but I thought that if I, obviously, the pad of the goaltender is interference, so I was trying to go over top of it, and I saw it go in. I knew it was going to be kind of a close call.

“As soon as I saw the replay, I was happy I did what I wanted to do. But it was just getting pucks to the net and bodies there and never giving up on a play. That’s kind of how playoffs are all about.”

At the other end of the ice, Linus Ullmark was brilliant early stopping 15 shots in the first period as Florida funneled pucks and bodies to the Boston Bruins net and created chaos that the B’s goaltender was able to track the puck through. He finished stopping 31-of-32 shots and clearly outplayed Lyon in the battle of goaltenders while picking up exactly where he left off during a Vezina Trophy caliber regular season.

“It gives us a lot of swagger,” said Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery, when asked what having Ullmark and Swayman does for the team going into any playoff series. “I think it allows us to play a game where it seems like we take chances, and by that, I mean taking chances with a purpose, while knowing we have them back there if anything goes awry. Their save percentage in goals saved above expected speaks for itself.”

To his credit, Florida Panthers head coach Paul Maurice has attempted to liberally slap lipstick on a pig when it comes to the way Lyon played in Game 1. Sure, he shut down a couple of 2-on-1’s by making saves on Trent Frederic and there were some other solid stops among his 26 saves during his first career Stanley Cup playoff game.

But Maurice calling it an “A+” performance right after the game and following that up by calling it a “terrific” game the next day is simply not reality.

“He was just so good,” said Maurice. “That’s the game he’s played for us since he’s come in. His timing on those two-on-one plays and his reads have just been fantastic for us. He was good. He’ll want the second one back. I’m not measuring that as the tell of his game. We’ll measure the saves that he made and give him an A+ for his game tonight.”

This humble hockey writer is not sure that Coach Maurice was watching the same playoff hockey game as everybody else on Monday night at the Garden.

Lyon was badly outplayed by Ullmark as the main reason Game 1 landed in favor of the Boston Bruins, and it could play out to be a fatal flaw in a series where the B’s have ultimate confidence in their goaltending duo of Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman.

“It’s our biggest strength, probably, is our goaltending,” said Boston Bruins winger Taylor Hall. “We have a lot of strengths, but that’s been the most consistent over the course of the season. [Linus Ullmark] is a rock. He even handles the pucks so well. He does little things.

“When it’s time to close on the puck and get a faceoff, he does that at the right times too. He’s a very professional goalie and he provides a lot of momentum and stability back there. We don’t want to rely on him too much and we want to protect him, but he does his thing. He’s calm, cool and his demeanor in the locker room goes a long way. He doesn’t let anything faze him and it’s been nice to see his progression having played with him in Buffalo as well.”

Ullmark’s progression from talented, unproven goalie in Buffalo to All-Star franchise goaltender in Boston has been striking, and it was never more apparent than the massive goaltending advantage the B’s enjoyed over the Panthers at the start of their playoff series.


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