Bruins’ Swayman Had MVP Performance in First Round

For the first time since 2020, the Boston Bruins have made it out of the first round of the playoffs. It was certainly a close one, and hats off to the Toronto Maple Leafs on playing a tough series and coming back from being down 3-1 to force an anxiety-inducing Game 7 for both fan bases. The Bruins were able to come out on top thanks to a third-period goal from Hampus Lindholm to tie the game at 1-1 and then an overtime winner from the team’s top goal scorer from the regular season, David Pastrnak.

Bruins notebook: Rookie Jeremy Swayman named No. 2 goalie for playoffs

It is clear to anyone who watched the series that the Bruins’ MVP was not Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, or Charlie McAvoy, the names one has come to expect when talking about the top players on the roster. No, the MVP for this series and the only reason they are moving on to face the Florida Panthers in Round 2 is Jeremy Swayman. Head coach Jim Montgomery said it best, “He was our best player in the series; it’s not close.”

Dropping the Goalie Rotation

Bruins G Linus Ullmark fined $5K for high-sticking | Reuters

Going into the first round, the Bruins decided to continue with the goaltender rotation they’ve had the whole season. With two goalies coming off of strong seasons in Swayman, who had a .916 save percentage (SV%) and 2.53 goals-against average (GAA), and Linus Ullmark, who finished with a .915 SV% and a 2.57 GAA, it made sense to keep the rotation. It was an essential part of the winning formula during the 2023-24 regular season and there was initially no reason to deviate from it.

Swayman played excellent in Game 1, continuing his win streak against the Maple Leafs after winning all three of the games he started against them during the season. Then as planned, Ullmark went in for Game 2, which ended up being a loss. Now, he wasn’t particularly bad in that game as he had a .912 SV% and 34 saves.

But after another terrific performance by Swayman in Game 3, it made sense to break from the rotation and go with him again in Game 4, and subsequently the rest of the series. He was by far the best player and kept the Bruins competitive for Games 5 and 6 much longer than they should have been given how the guys were performing in front of him. He finishes the first round with a .950 SV% and 1.49 GAA. He is arguably the strongest goaltender in the postseason right now.

Last season, Montgomery was criticized for his decisions in goal and playing Ullmark for the first six games against the Panthers despite the fact he was not playing to the same degree he had during the season and was supposedly injured. He went to Swayman for Game 7 but by then it was too late. This season, it was smart to start with the rotation, and then see who had the hot hand, and ride with him through the end of the round.

Now there is a decision of course about whether or not they go back to a goalie rotation at any point during this second-round series. I don’t have a particular answer, but either way, it’s a good problem for the Bruins to have too many talented goaltenders.

Saving the Bruins’ 2023-24 Season

Jeremy sways it as Bruins thump Panthers 5-1 in Game 1 - Litter Box Cats

When it comes down to it, the Bruins are in the second round because of Swayman. This team has had issues crop up for stretches at a number of points during the season, and the excellent goaltending kept them in games that they maybe should have lost. It was the same thing during the first round, the goaltending kept them competitive in games that could have gone a lot worse.

In Game 7, in particular, the Bruins’ strengths and flaws were both on full display. There were a number of stretches where they could not clear the puck out of their own zone, the powerplay did not look good, and there were several bad turnovers. But Swayman was at his best in net, keeping the game scoreless well into the third period and allowing the Bruins to get things together in front of him. The team has shown throughout the season that they can find unexpected ways to win, like Hampus Lindholm, who had yet to register a postseason goal in the black and gold since his arrival in 2022, scoring to tie the game and send it to overtime.

When the postseason rolls around, teams usually fall into two categories: those that win despite their goaltending and those that win because of their goaltending. There’s little argument to the fact that the Bruins fell into the latter in the first round.

We’re on to Florida

Bruins' Linus Ullmark Ready To 'Chase' All-Star Jeremy Swayman

The Bruins have a very quick turnaround, getting only one day’s rest in between Game 7 and Game 1. While Game 7 was a drastic step up from their performances in Games 5 and 6, there were still issues on display and without a lot of time to reset, it’ll be interesting to see which version of the team takes the ice in Sunrise.

Luckily, unless something drastic happens, goaltending should not be a concern in Round 2. Swayman is locked in and if Ullmark gets the green light at any point, he’ll be coming in refreshed and another solid option.

The team very much needed that first-round win after the sting of last season’s playoff exit in the first round and the first-round exit the prior season to the Carolina Hurricanes. They broke their streak of first-round exits thanks to Swayman, and now the pressure is off. The expectation is that Florida will win this series, despite the fact the Bruins won all four of their regular season matchups, but it could be a good thing for the team to come in as the underdog.

Whatever happens in the second round, Swayman’s dominance in net should have Bruins fans excited about the future. At 25, he’s already playing with the confidence of a seasoned veteran. The front office should do whatever they can to sign him to a long-term contract this offseason. With a few more pieces, this team should continue to be playoff-bound every season and a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

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