“If [one of them struggles], do I get the net?” was the question posed by Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman when General Manager Don Sweeney informed him he would be returning to the AHL affiliate in Providence. It was of course back in January, only days after Boston had announced the return of franchise goalie Tuukka Rask. With free agent acquisition Linus Ullmark as the clear backup due to his contract situation, this left Swayman as the odd man out despite a relatively strong start to the season by the rookie.
Eventually, Rask’s injury recovery proved too costly, and he retired from the game altogether, giving Swayman another shot in the NHL. This time, and so far, the 23-year-old Alaskan hasn’t once looked back.
Since February 12, Swayman is 10-1-1 in his last 12 contests, at one point winning eight in a row and posting a shutout of Los Angeles on February 28. Of his ten total wins, seven have been on the road, including four in a row away from Boston earlier this month. It’s been a shot in the arm for the Boston Bruins, who remain the fourth-place holders in the Atlantic Division, but firmly on the heels of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning.
And for a Boston team whose championship window is seemingly getting shorter, the emergence of a young goaltender with a high ceiling provides not only promise for the future, but confidence for an upcoming playoff push.
However, it’s also safe to say that the Eastern Conference playoffs will be a completely different challenge for the backstop should he be given the starting nod from Bruins bench boss Bruce Cassidy. Even though his career at the University of Maine included some big spotlights, Swayman missed out on a 2020 NCAA tournament berth due to the rapid growth of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, his only appearance during last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs came after the New York Islanders had the clinching game well under control. This season, it is likely that Swayman could face the high powered Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, or Florida Panthers in the first round alone. He’s winless in two starts against Carolina and Tampa Bay this season, as the team heads into Thursday’s tilt against the Bolts.
But no matter the opponent, the Boston Bruins and their fans should feel confident about Jeremy Swayman through the season’s final stretch and headed into the playoffs. In many ways, he’s exceeded expectations, and navigated the shadows of Ullmark and Rask tremendously. His poise and demeanour exemplify those of a true professional, a trait he shares with his captain, Patrice Bergeron. So, if Head Coach Bruce Cassidy calls his number come May, the black and gold could very well still be in good hands.