Bruins’ Jeremy Swayman or Linus Ullmark in Game 2? ‘Hard to go away from Sway’

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Bruins’ Jeremy Swayman or Linus Ullmark in Game 2? ‘Hard to go away from Sway’

BOSTON — Jeremy Swayman has yet to lose against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2023-24. 

The Boston Bruins goalie, 3-0-0 in the regular season with a .959 save percentage against the Leafs, stopped 35 pucks in his team’s 5-1 Game 1 win Saturday at TD Garden. 

His series-opening performance and his regular-season resume against the Leafs make Jim Montgomery’s Game 2 decision straightforward: Swayman has the inside track over Linus Ullmark.

“It’s going to be hard to go away from Sway,” the Bruins coach acknowledged. “He played a terrific game. We win 5-1. But if we decide to go with Ullmark, we’re comfortable with it and our team’s comfortable with it.”

It would mean the end of the Bruins’ pure goaltending rotation.

Swayman made an airtight case for a second straight start. The 25-year-old blanked Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares, the Leafs’ go-to scorers. The only puck Swayman couldn’t grab was a third-period tuck by David Kämpf. Before Kämpf’s goal, Swayman had helped the Bruins build a 4-0 lead. The game was over. Swayman had done well with his coaches’ trust.

“Swayman hadn’t had the opportunity to start a series before in the last couple years,” Montgomery said. “We wanted to see him start a series. Did really well.”

Swayman was fast, reactionary and athletic. He flashed rapid pads. He recovered well after making his first saves. Swayman had no trouble tracking the Leafs’ ability to move pucks for enhanced scoring chances.

“I thought his athleticism allowed him to make some really bouncing-puck rebound saves,” Montgomery said. “Made a couple point-blank saves early in the first. Then I thought we got to our game. So it was really important he made those saves.”

Last year, Swayman did not get his first chance to start in the playoffs until Game 7 against the Florida Panthers. It was too late. The Bruins put Swayman in a difficult situation. He had gone 17 days between starts.

This year, Swayman had five days to prepare for his Game 1 start after a 23-save dazzler against the Washington Capitals on Monday. He was delighted with the chance.

“Dream come true,” Swayman said of the pregame atmosphere. “It’s such a privilege to play in this league and for this city. Taking that first lap, hearing the fans, seeing the towels, it’s a pretty emotional feeling. You just understand how hard it is to get here and what a great opportunity it was. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face the whole night. Pretty spectacular.”

Swayman’s only boo-boo was in the second period when the Bruins held a 1-0 lead. Swayman left his crease to chase a puck after Matthews won a race against a tumbling Charlie McAvoy. Swayman missed with a sweeping poke check. Matthews rifled the puck on an open net. His attempt skimmed off the crossbar.

“Just wanted to see if I could get there before him,” Swayman said. “Glad it didn’t go in.”

While Swayman was doing his thing in the first, Johnny Beecher scored in his first career NHL appearance. Pat Maroon made the sequence happen by drawing Ryan Reaves and Joel Edmundson along the boards. By sucking in two Leafs and moving the puck to Jesper Boqvist, Maroon triggered a two-on-one rush. After taking a pass from Boqvist, Beecher snapped a shot past Ilya Samsonov.

“The play he makes, that’s what he’s good at,” Montgomery said of Maroon. “It’s making subtle plays that build the team game.”

In the second, Jake DeBrusk took over. The No. 2 right wing found Brandon Carlo for a one-timer from the right circle. Then on the power play, DeBrusk scored twice. He has a history of postseason elevation.

“I obviously didn’t like my season,” DeBrusk said (19-21-40 in 80 games). “I was pretty disappointed in myself. But at this point in time, here we have a chance to go for the ultimate goal. That’s all that really matters.”

Game 2 is Monday. Swayman will have Sunday to recover if he gets a second straight start. He hasn’t been in this situation in over two months. Feb. 19, Swayman stopped 43 shots against the Dallas Stars. Two days later, he made 37 saves against the Edmonton Oilers.

The decision the Bruins have to make is whether one full rest day is enough to optimize Swayman for Game 2. Part of what made the rotation successful is how it relieved Swayman and Ullmark of the physical and mental stress of making consecutive starts.

But you could also argue that the regular-season rotation has left Swayman fresh enough to carry the ball in the playoffs. The answer to that could come soon.

(Photo: Fred Kfoury III / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)