Swayman’s success against Leafs may bring Bruins rotation to a halt

Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman has now won six straight games against the Leafs, including five this season.

2023 Player Ratings: An excellent season for Jeremy Swayman - Stanley Cup  of Chowder

“When [Max] Domi goes off the bench and bumps him on purpose, makes me think that maybe he’s in their head a little bit,” said Boston bench boss Jim Montgomery.

Unsurprisingly, Sheldon Keefe had a different view.

“I sense zero frustration,” the Leafs head coach said. “I think it’s playoff hockey and things are happening all over the ice. With that logic, you would say every time they bump into one of our guys, maybe we’re in their heads. I don’t think that has anything to do with anything.”

Domi collided with Swayman during a television timeout in the second period. The Bruins goalie fell to the ice. There was no call on the play. Bruins winger Pat Maroon was furious.

“Those are things within the game that you don’t really want to allow to happen,” said Bruins defenceman Brandon Carlo. “We’re not going to allow them to push us around in that regard. You could see it right away on the bench from Patty Maroon. I didn’t see it, but he was making sure that everybody had known that Domi had done that.”

“It was kind of wild,” said Bruins winger Trent Frederic. “Maybe Sway’s getting in their head, making a lot of saves, but we also have Linus [Ullmark] too. So, bump our goalies, I don’t know, didn’t work last night.”

The Bruins have rotated between Swayman and Ullmark in 29 straight games dating back to February. Ullmark stopped 31 of 34 shots in the Game 2 loss to Toronto.

Swayman’s success against the Leafs and the two-day break in the series may bring an end to the goalie rotation, although Montgomery isn’t tipping his hand.

“We’re going to have more rest, but the rotation’s been so good for us,” Montgomery said. “So, you know, it’s a hard decision.”

It doesn’t look like that from the outside. The Leafs haven’t beaten Swayman since April 29, 2022. And Swayman leads the Stanley Cup playoffs with a .955 save percentage.

Swayman laughed off the Domi bump. During a post-game interview, he joked with ESPN’s Emily Kaplan that he needed to do more push-ups to be sturdier.

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“He’s incredible,” said Carlo. “To combine that competitiveness with the calmness and the fun that he has on the ice, I think it was like seven minutes left in the third and he’s coming back to the bench, high-stress time obviously, and he’s dancing to the music a little bit. He keeps it light. I love how much he enjoys the game. It reminds us all to just have fun and play the game as well. When you have a guy like that behind you it gives you definitely some more confidence.”

The last time Swayman made consecutive starts – Feb. 19 at home against Dallas and Feb. 21 at Edmonton – it didn’t go well in the second game. Swayman allowed five goals on 42 shots in an overtime win over the Oilers. But in that situation there was significant travel involved and Swayman faced more than 40 shots in each game.

There is no travel in this situation and Game 4 isn’t until Saturday.

“Personally, I don’t want rest,” the 25-year-old from Alaska told reporters following Wednesday’s 28-save performance. “I just want to keep playing. No matter when I get the call, whether it’s back-to-back or every other game, I want to make sure my body’s ready and I’m ready to perform at my best.”

Montgomery compares his goalie’s personality to that of captain Brad Marchand.

“Ultra competitive,” the coach said. “Like, if anyone’s as close to Marchy on our team [in terms of] competitive fire, it’s him.”

Frederic scored Boston’s opening goal in Game 3, but not everyone noticed because Marchand and Tyler Bertuzzi were mixing it up in the neutral zone.

“It was really weird,” Frederic recalled. “I was trying to tell the guys that we scored, ah, to remind them because I don’t think anyone really knew. It was a weird play but I’m glad it unraveled like that.”

It reminded Frederic of his first NHL goal, which came in an outdoor game at Lake Tahoe where there were no fans in attendance.

“Normally you get a reaction from maybe your teammates more and maybe the crowd a little bit and I don’t think anyone was watching so it was pretty funny,” he said.

Not to the Leafs, who felt Marchand should have been penalized on the play.

“I don’t think there is another player in this series who gets away with taking out Bertuzzi’s legs like he does,” Keefe said. “There isn’t another player in this series that gets away with that, but he does. It is an art. He is elite at it.”

Marchand has not taken a penalty in the series. He has only taken one minor in his last 11 playoff games.

“He gets targeted,” Montgomery said. “He still manages to get under people’s skin, and yet he doesn’t cross the line. It is something where you have to tip your hat to him because of his maturation as a hockey player and as a person.”

Marchand has drawn two penalties in the series, including one on Bertuzzi.

“Bert and I get tied up one shift, but outside of that I’m not really in the mix with anything,” the 35-year-old said. “I’m just trying to play and play a good team game.”

“That stuff’s going to happen with anyone,” Bertuzzi insisted. “So, it’s just normal.”

Marchand got the last laugh by scoring the game-winning goal and adding the empty-net goal.

“You have to play through it,” said Keefe. “You have to recognize it is a world-class player both in ability and in how he plays with the gamesmanship and everything. It is world-class. He has been in the league long enough that, as you can see, he gets calls. It is unbelievable, actually, how it goes.”

“That’s what he does,” said Bertuzzi, who has taken a penalty in all three games of the series. “He’s been doing it for a long time. So I don’t expect it to stop.”

“I can tell you that any player that plays against him hates to play against him,” said Carlo, “and any player that plays with him loves to play with him.”

Bertuzzi and Marchand were teammates last season and got along famously. Needless to say, the friendship is on hold.

“We’re similar players,” Marchand said. “We got along great when we were teammates, similar people off the ice, just similar interests, but when in the playoffs and playing against each other, that all goes out the window.”

“Those two guys are very competitive,” said Montgomery. “They’re playoff performers, because of their natural competitive instincts. That’s probably why they got along so well is because there’s a bond there of doing anything you have to do to win.”

Bertuzzi scored in the third period, but it was a much quieter performance for Toronto’s top line, which had generated three goals in Game 2.

“We were so-so,” Bertuzzi said. “We played alright. Offensively we were making some plays, playing simple. We still have to be a little bit better defensively. After tying it we can’t let it goal in after that.”

Marchand’s goal came with Bertuzzi, Auston Matthews and Domi on the ice. Matthews was held without a point. TSN Hockey Insider Chris Johnston reports that Matthews played through an illness on Wednesday.

The Leafs have scored just six goals in three games in the series. Keefe was asked if he’s contemplating reuniting Matthews with Mitch Marner, who has been playing on the second line with John Tavares and Matthew Knies.

“We will always look at that,” said Keefe. “I have done it a little bit here and there. I have primarily done it off of faceoffs. I do find there are offensive-zone faceoff situations where it is beneficial not just to Mitch and his skill set but Mitch’s right shot coming off of the wall. It is helpful. With three lefties on that line, there are certain faceoff situations and plays you want to run where it is not an ideal set. Having Mitch makes sense in that case.”

Matthews, Bertuzzi and Domi caught fire down the stretch after Marner got hurt and missed 12 games.

“I’ll continue to look at it, but Matthews-Domi-Bertuzzi line was outstanding in Game 2,” said Keefe. “So that’s part of it. You don’t want to disrupt one line for another and then you’re left with no lines. You really want to get multiple lines going. Last night the Marner, Tavares, and Knies line scored a really nice goal and generated a number of nice chances for us. There are a lot of benefits we have seen from that. We have to trust it and work through it but also look to find our spots to change it up when it suits us.”

The two-day break between games will benefit William Nylander, who has missed the first three games of the series with an undisclosed injury.

“The more time, the better,” confirmed Keefe. “We’ve been working with Willy to give him the time that he needs to be ready to play. The medical team works with him on a daily basis to see where he’s at and continue to assess that.”

Nylander has skated at least three times since the health issue popped up following the regular season finale on April 17.

Nylander’s return would benefit the Leafs in every area of the game, including the power play. Toronto went 0/5 on Wednesday and is just 1/11 in the series.

“I think we’re doing an okay job,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly, who is the quarterback on the top unit. “The puck’s not going in, which is frustrating, but there’s chances coming.”

“We’re getting our looks,” insisted Marner. “I think we really are.”

Keefe counted 11 high-danger chances from the slot in the last two games. The only goals on those opportunities came from Tavares in Game 2.

“We’ve got to look for ways to put our players in positions where we can convert perhaps easier and better,” said Keefe. “At the same time, we’ve also got to trust it and stay with it and all of that, because the things you’re trying to do to put you in a position to generate chances in the last two games, in particular, have been there.”

The Bruins have converted on five of 10 power-play chances in the series with one of the goals coming into an empty net at the end of Game 3.

“The pace we are playing with,” said Montgomery when asked what’s leading to the success. “The pucks are moving. People are moving off of the puck. It is what we were trying to do.”

Like the Leafs, the Bruins struggled on the power play down the stretch. Unlike the Leafs, they decided to make a bold move on the eve of the playoffs by going to a more balanced approach with two units. Jake DeBrusk, who is on the second unit, has three of the power play goals. The unit with 47-goal man David Pastrnak on it has yet to strike in the series.

“Splitting up the units created inner competition,” Montgomery said. “It also freed people’s minds of, ‘I have to get the puck to Pasta,’ or ‘I’ve got to get the puck to Marchand.’ It was the same old, same old. Now, it is fresh.”

What’s old is Toronto’s penalty-kill problem. The Leafs finished 23rd overall in that department in the regular season.

“We just have to do a better job of the details,” said Keefe. “If you break down each goal, it is a different mistake at different times. It hasn’t been the same thing. It has been different things that have led to goals against. We have to find a way through that.”

On Wednesday, the Leafs lost a puck battle on the wall, which led to DeBrusk knocking in a rebound in front.

“We get beat 3-on-1 coming off of the wall,” said Keefe. “It can’t happen.”

“They got a lot of pucks off the yellow and into the middle ice,” said Knies, who is filling on the penalty kill with Nylander and Bobby McMann out. “We just we can’t allow that to happen. I think we got to stay, stay composed and get clears.”

Joe Bowen, the longtime radio play-by-play voice of the Leafs, felt the fans at Game 3 didn’t help out the home team enough.

“The players can’t say it but I will tonight’s crowd was VERY DISAPPOINTING,” Bowen wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

But Keefe had no issues with the atmosphere.

“I found it quite loud in there last night and there’s a number of times that it’s hard even calling out lines,” he said. “You’ve got to scream lines and you’ve got to kind of move up and down the bench to make sure players are hearing and communicating properly.

“That was the same in Boston and we experienced that last night as well. So, from my perspective, I didn’t see that as an issue at all. In fact, there were some moments in the game where they got extremely loud.”

The Leafs have now lost five straight playoff home games.

“There’s not much between the teams and the players are giving everything that they have,” Keefe said. “So, that extra boost [from fans] is really important, but that wasn’t on my mind at all last night. Like I said, if anything, as a coach, your voice and your head is going to pound a little bit because you’re screaming for two and a half hours to try to communicate over top of the noise.”

The Leafs will hold a practice on Friday at Ford Performance Centre. The Bruins will skate at Scotiabank Arena.

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