Coming into the postseason, the Bruins had a goaltending dilemma: it was time to decide which of their duo would give the team the best chance to win a playoff series.
With neither goalie having started a playoff game in his career, it was hard to judge who would fare best in Boston’s opening-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. Each goalie went through stretches of hot and cold during the season, but ultimately, it was Linus Ullmark playing well at the right time, and he got the start in Game 1.
But after two straight losses, Bruce Cassidy turned to Jeremy Swayman. And he hasn’t disappointed.
Swayman, the rookie netminder from Alaska, has won three of his four starts in the series against the Hurricanes since taking over in Game 3. All three wins have come at home.
His most recent home win came Thursday night, in the Bruins’ 5-2 victory over the Hurricanes at TD Garden to force a Game 7.
“He's played pretty well the last few games, especially at home. He won a couple games at home,” Cassidy said.
But Thursday’s game at the Garden was a different kind of test for the young goalie -- it was his first ever elimination game.
“I wanted to approach it as just another game, making sure that we were doing everything we could to win, and I’m super happy with the result,” Swayman said after Game 6.
Swayman blanked the Hurricanes through two full periods to start Game 6, stopping all of Carolina’s first 19 shots. With the help of Swayman, the Bruins killed off all four of the penalties they took in the second period, which allowed them to head to the third with a 2-0 lead. In the third, Swayman allowed two goals to Andrei Svechnikov, one even-strength and one on the power play, and finished the game with a .920 save percentage (23 saves on 25 shots).
Because of Swayman’s strong performance Thursday, Cassidy will go back to the rookie goaltender in net for Game 7.
“It’s a dream come true. I can't wait,” Swayman said about getting the nod for Game 7 at Carolina.
Despite the importance of a win-or-go-home game, the 23-year-old isn't worried about the pressure:
“It's no bigger or smaller than any game I’ve played before,” Swayman said. “I want to make sure I'm coming with that mentality and we want to win. We're going to do everything we can and I can't wait to get on the ice.”
“He’s a young kid that doesn't seem to get fazed by the time of year,” Cassidy said. “It's the biggest one of the year. Everyone loves a Game 7, and we'll see how it goes from there.”
Swayman’s teammates also weighed in on their confidence in him for the deciding game of the series.
Bruins defenseman Hampus Lindholm said, “He’s a great goalie. He's showing poise back there, and it makes it easy when you know he's gonna make that first save and you can try to clean up the rebounds for him. So no, he's been great for us.”
“He's going to learn more when he gets older but it's also a mindset,” Lindholm said about Swayman’s ability to reset after mistakes and treat high-stakes games like any other game. “If you have that mindset, it makes it easier to climb the ladder and get up. There's a reason why he's at this level, and it’s probably because of that.”
Bruins forward Charlie Coyle, who scored the Bruins’ second goal on Thursday, said he trusts Swayman in any situation, including a Game 7.
“We have confidence in them to make the saves that they're capable of, and they've done that all year for us,” Coyle said about both Swayman and Ullmark. “So we're excited to have them and those are the goalies you want, especially in games like this coming up.”
With a .915 save percentage in the series, Swayman ranks fifth among NHL goaltenders who have had four or more starts so far this postseason.
Three of Swayman’s 10 goals against came on the power play, while seven came at even strength.
In each of his three home playoff starts, Swayman has allowed two goals and has stopped 72 of the 78 shots from Carolina while in Boston.
However, Swayman’s stats in the one road game he’s started this series are not as stellar. He came out of Game 5 in Carolina with an .892 save percentage, giving up four goals on 37 shots.
For the Bruins to advance past Carolina on Saturday, they’re going to need Swayman to perform in Raleigh the same way he has in Boston this postseason.