When goaltender Niklas Svedberg was called up to Boston last Friday, it was supposed to be the culmination of a lifelong dream, as the 24-year-old Swede was set to make his NHL debut Saturday in Ottawa against the Senators.
But then Dennis Seidenberg was injured in last Friday night’s game, and Svedberg’s NHL hopes were put on hold while the Bruins recalled defenseman Zach Trotman on an emergency basis and sent Svedberg back to Rhode Island for the interim.
Six nights later, Svedberg finally got a second chance to make his NHL debut, and it was worth the wait. Svedberg made 33 saves on 35 shots to help the Bruins to a 3-2 overtime win against the Nashville Predators.
“Ever since I started playing, this is where I wanted to be so I’m real happy with this win,” Svedberg said. “It’s just one game, but it’s real fun to get the win in my first game.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Swede. In the first period, Svedberg struggled at times with rebound control, but his defense bailed him out to preserve a 0-0 game through the first period.
Svedberg proved he was up to the challenge for the Bruins in the second period. While the team in front of him played lifeless hockey, Svedberg made some nice saves during a 16-shot period for Nashville.
The Swedish goaltender’s one mistake of the period came when, after making a stop on Mike Fisher from the left side of the net, Svedberg allowed a juicy rebound to squirt out to his right, where an unguarded Viktor Stalberg waited. Stalberg slipped the puck past a diving Svedberg for the Predator’s first goal of the night.
While better rebound control could have saved Svedberg on that shot, the Bruins defense was equally at fault for allowing Stalberg to go unnoticed on the opposite side of the net.
“I thought in the second when they did throw a lot of pucks at him, he stood tall and made some good saves,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I liked his game tonight. He was good, and he just showed us that he’s a guy we need to look at and keep an eye on.”
The defense was similarly chaotic on Nashville’s second goal of the night. After the Bruins failed to clear out a loose puck from the front of the net, Shea Weber slapped a rebound past Zdeno Chara and Svedberg to tie the game at 2-2.
Overall, however, Svedberg was calm and controlled, and his game gives Boston something to think about in the near future. The Bruins could be eying Svedberg as a backup candidate for Tuukka Rask after current backup Chad Johnson struggled at times in recent outings. Johnson has been particularly shaky on wraparound goals as his lateral movement is lacking.
And while Johnson is three years older than Svedberg and has more NHL experience on his resume, Svedberg has proven he deserves a shot in the NHL after stellar results at the AHL level over the last two years. Thanks to his 37-8-2 record last season with the Providence Bruins, Svedberg became the first AHL rookie since 1994-95 to be named the AHL’s top goaltender. This season, Svedberg (who has split time in Providence with Malcolm Subban) is 13-5-3 with a .909 save percentage.
“I think he’s improved over the course of the year with his experience,” Julien said of Svedberg before Thursday’s game. “Earlier on, when I first saw him, when he first came, he had to make some adjustments to his game because of how they played in Europe versus here and the adjustment was like, in Europe, they really make those plays down low … He used to play a little deeper in his net, and now he plays out a little bit more, so he’s made that adjustment.
“From there on in, I think he just kept getting better and better, you could see his skill level was pretty good. He’s had some bumps along the way here this year but as of late, what I’ve been told is he’s been playing pretty well.”
Although Johnson won the backup job out of training camp and Svedberg was sent back down to the AHL following Thursday night’s game, Svedberg showed he is a palatable option in net with his performance against Nashville. For now, it looks like the young goaltender could continue to see spot starts at the NHL level until the Bruins officially decide what to do about a backup goaltender.