Usually, playoff-bound teams would use the last few weeks of the regular season to give their projected postseason starter a bulk of the workload.
Gone are the days of Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek and other elite goalies receiving nearly 70 starts per season. In today’s NHL, a majority of squads use a goaltending rotation to spell their netminders from the 82-game grind. Even so, coaches often tend to have their top playoff goaltender in mind by this point of the season.
Given Linus Ullmark’s Vezina-worthy campaign (35-5-1, 1.95 GAA, .937 SV%), conventional wisdom suggests that the Boston Bruins would ride or die with the Swede. But they have themselves a luxurious situation following Jeremy Swayman’s stellar second half run.
“I don’t know if they can do much better than they done,” head coach Jim Montgomery said to the media following Boston’s optional skate on Thursday. “It’s working really well.”
Montgomery kept the rotation going, alternating starts between Ullmark and Swayman during Boston’s hectic March slate. That trend continued Thursday with Swayman’s start against the Montreal Canadiens.
Swayman (19-6-4, 2.19 GAA, .921 SV%) continued his hot hand against the Habs in their first and only visit to TD Garden this season. His latest 29-save outing came a couple of days removed from Ullmark’s stellar 40-save performance in Boston’s 2-1 win over the desperate Ottawa Senators.
The Bruins didn’t play their sharpest brand of hockey upon their return home from their five-game road trip. But amid their busy slate, Swayman and Ullmark backstopped the Bruins out of their rut, just as they did when the team embarked on their mini-slump a week ago.
Thursday marked Boston’s fifth straight win. Over that busy span, Swayman and Ullmark allowed a mere five goals on 165 shots.
“We want to do our job every night, whether we have two days off or no days off. Everyone goes through it. The whole league goes through it,” Swayman said. “We know when we touch the ice, we want to help the team win every night. Some games are good, some games are bad. But we just want to do our job every night.”
Barring injury, the duo will split the starts this weekend against a pair of teams they could see in May in the Lightning and Hurricanes.
In just a few weeks, the Bruins will likely turn the reigns over to Ullmark to open the postseason. But given Boston’s successful goalie platoon, Montgomery isn’t ruling out continuing with the rotation come playoff time.
“We would have no issues with it,” Montgomery told the media. “I don’t know if we’re gonna do that. I think we’ll start with one of them. Most likely, Linus is going to start the first game, then we’ll see how it goes game to game from there, but I’m not going to commit to anything beyond Game 1.”
If any duo could pull off a playoff rotation, it’s Swayman and Ullmark. The two have formed an impeccable bond with one another both on and off the ice.
Swayman recently provided insight into how the two share quality time away from the rink. His dad Ken, got a firsthand look at their bond when Ullmark and his wife, Mona, invited father and son to their house for a few Swedish delicacies, including the homemade cinnamon rolls.
“My dad asks him how he’s doing every time I talk to him. It’s like a second son. It’s such a special relationship,” Swayman said. “To see it translate on the ice so well for both of us is really special. We’re finding a formula on how to do that every night.”
If there’s a coach who could run with a playoff rotation, it’s Montgomery. After all, he encountered a similar situation while captaining the iconic University of Maine squad in 1993. His coach, Shawn Walsh, kept his rotation of Mike Dunham and Garth Snow in place throughout their tournament run — albeit in a single elimination format.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are, of course, a different beast. Aside from injuries or inconsistent play, teams hardly use a consistent rotation in net.
But the league-leading Bruins could deviate from the norm. Because why mess with a successful format featuring two tight-knit goaltenders?
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