Bruins should stick with Jeremy Swayman in Game 2 vs. Leafs

Bruins should stick with Jeremy Swayman in Game 2 vs. Leafs originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON -- Jeremy Swayman is a problem for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Bruins goalie made the first Game 1 start of his playoff career in Saturday night's first-round matchup at TD Garden, and he gave one of his best performances of the season in a 5-1 win.

“Dream come true,” Swayman said postgame when asked about his huge smile during the national anthem. “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.”

The Leafs, based on the amount and quality of their scoring chances, were expected to score 4.74 goals, per analytics website Natural Stat Trick. But they scored just once because Swayman was locked in from the opening puck drop.

Swayman turned away 35 of the 36 shots he faced, with the only goal he allowed coming early in the third period when the Bruins were leading 4-1. The 25-year-old netminder was especially effective early in the second period when the Leafs had a power play. He made several quality saves during that sequence to keep Toronto off the scoreboard.

“I thought his athleticism allowed him to make some really good bouncing-puck rebound saves,” Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said postgame. “He made a couple point-blank saves early in the first. And then I thought we got to our game, so it was really important he made those saves.”

The Bruins' Game 1 starter was a mystery until the pre-game warmups when Swayman led the team onto the ice. All week, Montgomery wouldn't reveal which goalie he was going to start. Why did he ultimately decide on Swayman?

“Swayman hadn’t had the opportunity to start a series before in the last couple years,” Montgomery explained. “We wanted to see him start a series, see how he'd handle it. He did really well.”

Another reason to go with Swayman was his recent performances versus the Leafs. He went 3-0-0 with a .959 save percentage in three starts against Toronto during the regular season, including a pair of 4-1 wins -- one on the road and one at home -- back in early March.

Jeremy Swayman
Swayman made 35 saves to secure his first career Game 1 win.

There's been a lot of debate in recent months over whether the Bruins should use a goalie rotation in the playoffs. It's worked really well for them during the last two regular seasons. But after another stellar game against the Leafs, can the Bruins really afford to take Swayman out of the net in Game 2 on Monday night?

Montgomery didn't reveal his Game 2 starter Saturday night, but he did make an interesting admission.

“It’s going to be hard to go away from Sway,” Montgomery said. “He played a terrific game, we win 5-1. But if we decide to go with (Linus) Ullmark, we’re comfortable with it and our team’s comfortable with it."

The Bruins have alternated starts between Swayman and Ullmark in every game since the middle of February. The last B's goalie to make back-to-back starts was Swayman. He made 43 saves in a 4-3 shootout win over the Dallas Stars on Feb. 19, and then two days later he made 37 saves in a 6-5 overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers.

The Bruins went away from the rotation in the first round last season and it was one of the reasons why the Florida Panthers pulled off a stunning upset in Game 7. The rotation has produced tremendous results for both goalies, so it does make sense to keep it going in the postseason.

Frankly, it might not even matter who the Bruins start in net this series. The Leafs' goaltending has been average or worse most of the season, and Ilya Samsonov's performance in Game 1 didn't exactly inspire a ton of confidence going forward. The Leafs' lackluster defense, poor penalty kill and unreliable goaltending are huge problems for them.

The Bruins came into this series with a huge goaltending advantage, and that was evident Saturday. Swayman deserves another start in Game 2, and regardless of how that matchup unfolds, the Bruins can turn to Ullmark when the series shifts to Toronto. That's the best plan in the short term.