After the Boston Bruins were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games by the New York Islanders in June of 2021, goaltender Tuukka Rask was scheduled to become a free agent. To put a cloud over his future and the Bruins’ future in net, he announced that he would undergo hip surgery, which would keep him out six months, if he was even going to play again.
Boston general manager (GM) Don Sweeney had an immediate backup plan when free agency started last July. After Jeremy Swayman showed promise in his rookie season, albeit just 10 games, Sweeney agreed to a contract with former Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark on a four-year, $20 million contract to pair with Swayman. To make room for Ullmark, Sweeney shipped out Dan Vladar to the Calgary Flames.
Even though Rask made a short return in late January and early February before he retired, Swayman and Ullmark provided to be a good goaltending combination for this season and what the Bruins hope will be beyond. Continuing with our 2021-22 Bruins’ player grades, it’s time to grade the goaltending.
One of the big questions that faced the Bruins going into the season was if Swayman could continue his strong play following his impressive short stint last season. The answer was yes. After a strong regular season, he carried over his confidence in the net to the playoffs.
After winning seven of his 10 starts in the 2020-21 regular season, the former University of Maine backstop went 23-14-3 this season with a 2.41 goals-against average (GAA) and a .914 save percentage (SV%). After sitting the first two playoff games against the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round, he won three of the final five games he played with a 2.63 GAA and a .911 SV%.
Swayman did his part in Game 7 against Carolina stopping 28 of the 31 shots he faced, but like Ullmark, he fell victim to defensive breakdowns, bad bounces, and failure to have the puck cleared out of the zone by his teammates at different points of the series. Clearly, he is the future goaltender in Boston.
It was a little surprising when it was announced that the Bruins were signing Ullmark last July, and even more surprising was the four-year, $20 million contract. Things started out a little rough for the new Bruin, but once he got his feet under him, he proved to be a valuable pickup.
Injuries hampered his time with the rebuilding Sabres in his six seasons in Western New York, but he stayed relatively healthy this season. Ullmark went 26-10-2 with a 2.45 GAA and a .917 SV% in the regular season. He had multiple big performances for coach Bruce Cassidy at key points in the season. The playoffs, however, were a different story and it was not all his fault.
In the first two games against the Hurricanes, he gave up eight goals and had a 4.16 GAA and just a .860 SV%. He could hardly be faulted in both games as a bad pinch by Matt Grzelcyk at the blue line in the third period of Game 1 with the Black and Gold trailing 2-1 led to a 2-on-1 backbreaking goal. Like Swayman, he fell victim to bad bounces, the Bruins not being able to clear the puck out of their zone, and bad turnovers at the wrong time.
Good Returns From First Post-Rask Era
Rask’s return lasted just four games and it was a tough ending to his career for the former Vezina Trophy winner. Swayman went to the minors for the two weeks that Rask was back and acted like a professional and found his way back into the thick of things in Boston. It was a good first season in Boston for Ullmark and Swayman won 23 games in his first full season in the NHL, while getting some much-needed playoff experience for the future.