Bruins’ Face Questions In Net As Game 7 Looms

The Boston Bruins could have closed out their first-round series against the Florida Panthers in Game 5. However, after squandering two opportunities to eliminate their opposition, they are now forced into a decisive Game 7. The situation is less than ideal for a Bruins team with the best regular season in NHL history.

Game 5 ended abruptly following a monumental mistake from Bruins’ goaltender Linus Ullmark. Moving forward, the coaching staff decided it was in the team’s best interest to start Ullmark again for Game 6, allowing him to redeem himself for his Game 5 blunder. Clearly, after the final horn sounded and the Panthers were able to force a Game 7 with a 7-5 victory, the Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery and his coaching staff may be regretting that decision. Now, with Game 7 looming, they face yet another crucial decision regarding which one of their goaltenders should start the series-deciding contest.

Ullmark Falters Again as Bruins Fail to Clinch Series

Ullmark put together one of the most impressive goaltending performances throughout a regular season. He finished the season with a 40-6-1 record and a league-leading 1.89 goals-against average (GAA) and .938 save percentage (SV%) and is the front-runner to win the Vezina Trophy. However, it appears as though Ullmark is definitely battling through an undisclosed injury of some sort during the playoffs. He has allowed 20 goals through six games, regressing to a 3.33 GAA and a .895 SV%. Injury or not, this is far below expectations of a possible Vezina Trophy winner.

Linus Ullmark Boston Bruins
Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Montgomery has given the benefit of the doubt to Ullmark twice now, first in Game 5, where he allowed four goals on 25 shots and also single-handedly cost the Bruins the game with his mishandling of the puck in overtime. Following the series-changing miscue, Montgomery and the coaching staff mulled their options and again decided to turn to Ullmark for Game 6. Unfortunately, instead of answering the bell and redeeming himself from his Game 5 mistake, the Bruins’ netminder allowed six goals on 32 shots posting a series-low .812 SV%.

The Bruins have now seen their 3-1 series lead evaporate into the 3-3 series, and the pressure has to be mounting on the Presidents’ Trophy winners. Ullmark has had two opportunities to lead the Bruins into the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs but hasn’t done the job. So, the question now begs the answer as to whether or not the Bruins have waited too long to turn to Jeremy Swayman.

Bruins’ Coaching Staff Have Been Too Hesitant to Start Swayman

Although Ullmark received most of the praise as being their bona fide number-one goaltender throughout the season, Swayman offers the Bruins what most NHL teams only dream of having. Swayman is not a “backup” goaltender, and his numbers throughout the year prove that. Aside from suffering an injury on Nov. 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins and being sidelined until a Nov. 19 game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Swayman and Ullmark split the season, as the 23-year-old made 37 appearances posting a 24-6-4 record with a 2.27 GAA and a .920 SV%.

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His play down the final stretch was, in fact, arguably better than that of Ullmark’s. Since the season flipped the calendar page to the New Year, Swayman went 17-3-1 with a 1.87 GAA and a .932 SV%. He also posted four shutouts during that stretch of play. Since Jan. 1, Ullmark posted a 20-5-0 record with a 1.88 GAA and a .937 SV%, hardly topping Swayman’s performance down the stretch.

Jeremy Swayman Boston Bruins
Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

While Montgomery utilized his goalies in an equal rotation throughout the season, many questions were asked about how he would handle his goaltending situation during the playoffs. Evidently, six games into the first round without giving Swayman a start, he has opted to go the more traditional route of leaning on one goaltender. With that being said, Ullmark hasn’t looked himself in this series, and following the 6-3 loss in Game 2, many speculated whether or not the Bruins should turn to Swayman. However, the Bruins’ bench boss stuck with his guns and started Ullmark for Games 3 and 4 in Florida. As a result, the Swedish netminder gave the Bruins two strong performances to help lead to a 3-1 series advantage.

Following the two strong outings in Florida, all seemed well in the Bruins’ net, and the topic wasn’t center page discussion entering Game 5. However, following the outcome of Game 5, outrage broke out regarding Ullmark’s costly overtime mistake, and once again, questions flooded Montgomery’s way regarding who he would start for Game 6. Needless to say, he stuck with his intuition and started Ullmark, but now, after suffering the loss and being on the verge of Game 7, the Bruins have a goaltending controversy on their hands.

The simple suggestion is that Swayman should get the start for Game 7. However, the Bruins have now mismanaged their opportunity to get the young goaltender into the series. Throwing a cold Swayman into the net for Game 7 would be like throwing him to the wolves. Not to say he wouldn’t seize the opportunity, but the pressure the Alaska native now faces will be immense. Had Montgomery and his coaching staff decided to turn Swayman, Game 3 was the perfect situation, as the rotation had worked so well for the club all season long that they could’ve taken that approach for the remainder of the series.

They chose not to do so, and once again, Game 6 brought another ideal timing to give Swayman a start. While taking a 3-2 series lead into the game, they could’ve gone with their “backup,” and had he faltered, the decision to go back to Ullmark would’ve been much more straightforward than the decision they now face. It would have been a much lower-pressure situation to get Swayman into the net, and they could act accordingly following the game to plan their next move. Instead, now in a do-or-die situation, the Bruins have turned the league’s best tandem into a whole-blown goaltending controversy.

Who Should Start in Game 7?

Despite Ullmark’s unearthly campaign this season, it’s time to hand the net over to Swayman. Although Ullmark is considered the veteran netminder, he has minimal playoff experience. In fact, entering the series, it was Swayman who had more playoff starts under his belt in comparison to his counterpart.

While looking no further than at last season’s first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes when the Bruins were forced to make a goaltending switch after dropping Games 1 and 2 of the series. Former head coach Bruce Cassidy also started the series with Ullmark, but after allowing eight goals on 57 shots, Swayman entered the series in Game 3 and helped the Bruins even the series. Then, unfortunately, they eventually were eliminated in Game 7, but through his five games in the series, Swayman allowed just 13 goals for a 2.60 GAA with a .911 SV% compared to Ullmark’s 4.00 GAA and .860 SV% in his two games.

One way or another, Montgomery has enormous decisions to make for Sunday night’s Game 7. After already squandering two opportunities to turn to Swayman, it feels like the time to give his second goaltender a chance to shine in what could be the biggest game of his young career.

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