Perhaps because he’s under fire as well after a very underwhelming playoff performance in the stunning Boston Bruins first round exit at the hands of the Florida Panthers, netminder Linus Ullmark came very strongly to the defense of his head coach after it was all over.
There have been understandable, legitimate second guesses of Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery in the aftermath, whether it was going away from the regular season goalie rotation, mixing up the lines like never before midway through the series or a couple of iffy lineup decisions, as stunned B’s fans look for something, or somebody to blame at an utterly disappointing finish.
But Ullmark said he wouldn’t be doing that and that finding a scapegoat for the team-wide disappointment wasn’t “the right thing to do.”
“I think that everyone that works in this —like you guys [in the media], it’s very easy, and also something that everybody does when things aren’t going the way they want to is that they’re trying to find a scapegoat. Right now, everybody is going at different directions,” said Ullmark, who went from Vezina Trophy regular season to a 3.34 goals against average and .896 save percentage in the playoffs while battling through some kind of injury. “They’re going at Monty, they’re going up top, they’re going at me, they’re going at different people. That’s not what we’re about. We lose as a team, we win as a team. We’ve done that through the whole season.
“We try to do it as well now in the playoffs as well. Unfortunately, we lost four games in this series. That cost us to not go on to the second round, and that’s what it is. That’s human nature. Trying to find a scapegoat when things turn to [expletive]. It’s natural, but it’s also not the right thing to do. I do love Monty. He’s been great for us all season long. I have full faith in him and whatever decisions he makes out there. He’s one of the best coaches, if not the best coach that I’ve had.”
It certainly was a stunning turnaround for Ullmark, just as it was for Montgomery after it was announced last week that he was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award given to the league’s best coach last season. But chalk it up as a learning experience to an NHL head coach that had never coached with those kind of playoff expectations, and truth be told very few have given the nature of Boston’s record-breaking regular season combined with the Boston Bruins organization loading up on the roster at the NHL trade deadline.
Montgomery mentioned “confusion” as one of his emotions after it was all over in the moments directly after the Game 7 loss over a week ago, and that sounds like a head coach where things sped up on him a little bit as the series unfolded.
“The way it ended didn’t matter, how it ended, it just…the season’s over. I guess the words that come to mind right now are, disappointment, confusion and then I would say the other part is, you start looking at the season,” said Montgomery. “It was an honor to coach that group. I know we didn’t get to where we wanted, I get that, but their professionalism, their work ethic, their commitment to being pros, it was a joy to be around.”
Montgomery, Boston Bruins management and the ownership group will address the media on Tuesday, so it’s already a foregone conclusion that the B’s bench boss will get another crack at it next season. He’s clearly hoping it will be with Patrice Bergeron coming back after the two had a close working relationship last season where No. 37 met daily with the head coach and in many ways acted as a player/coach on and off the ice.
“It’s good,” said Bergeron, of his conversations with Montgomery since the season ended. “I mean obviously it’s always, after the fact, a lot of questions and a lot of questions are unanswered for now, so yeah trying to put your head around everything, and obviously we talked about the whole year, so we had a great conversation.”
The Bruins head coach spoke earlier this season after learning a great deal from a Frozen Four experience that didn’t go well for him when he was a player at the University of Maine. He used it to improve and be ready the next time he was playing on college hockey’s biggest stage, and that led to him winning an NCAA title with the Black Bears during a dominant senior season at the University of Maine.
Perhaps history can repeat itself for Montgomery and the Boston Bruins after a very difficult playoff experience that will ultimately bring a lot of growth and experience for many that might have needed it.