The Boston Bruins know what they have in their goaltender tandem of Linus Ullmark (13-5-2) and Jeremy Swayman (13-3-7). The duo has been the cream of the NHL crop for the last two years, highlighted by their winning the Jenning’s Trophy, Ullmark’s All-Star nod, and Vezina Trophy Award in 2022-23. This past Saturday, Swayman added to the pair’s accolades by garnering his first All-Star selection after snapping a three-game overtime losing streak by backstopping the Bruins to a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center.
So, when Ullmark went down with a lower-body injury the previous Tuesday, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes, no one on the Bruins’ bench panicked. Boston knows what they have by having a 1A and a 1B between the pipes.
“It’s huge no matter who’s back there. It’s a pretty good luxury to have those two guys,” veteran forward Charlie Coyle said. “Sway can carry that load right now with Linus out he’s not he’s not afraid to back down from a challenge. Those guys want to play every game. They’re such good teammates together.”
“He’s a few years younger than me, and to have a guy like that come in,” added Coyle. “He just has that swagger about him, and you’ll see that, and it’s contagious; it oozes through, and it’s not in a cocky way, just confident. He’s a great teammate. Some goalies are kind of more standoffish; they do their own things and stay in their own lane, and he’s tapping on your pads. He’s talking to you, and he’s smiling. He’s laughing, and I think it’s a pretty cool thing. He just kind of rides on that. So he’s a great teammate and awesome competitor, and he’s been huge for us this year. Again.”
Following the win over the Blues, Swayman, unexpectedly and unprompted, brought up his arbitration case from this off-season when asked about making the All-Star team.
“Yeah, After dealing with what I did this summer with the arbitration, hearing things that a player should never hear, it feels pretty special to be in this situation,” said the 25-year-old Swayman.
His following start, Monday afternoon against the New Jersey Devils, he backed it up by shutting out the Devils for a 3-0 win. He stopped all 31 Devils shots en route to his third shutout of the season.
Swayman and Ullmark have a very well-known friendship. Be it the celebratory hug after every Bruins win or that Swayman dressed as Santa Claus for Ullmark’s children this past Christmas. The pair are as tight as they are unique. They push and support each other, and it’s genuine.
All that aside, it’s time to make Swayman the number one in the crease. That was the anticipation before Boston surprisingly signed Ullmark to a four-year, $20 million, partial no-trade clause deal in the summer of 2021. The first two years of the agreement were a total no-trade, year three was a 16-team no-trade list, and the next year is a 15-team list. Ullmark has undoubtedly lived up to and beyond expectations, and his value may never be higher. But Swayman was the future, and that future is now.
Swayman is a unique individual. He’s always smiling, confident, and laid-back; nothing surprises him. Most importantly, he’s a bulldog. He’s also five years younger than Ullmark and shows the promise that Bruins fans dreamt of as former Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask’s career winded down.
Like last year, the Bruins are still riding high near the top of the overall league standings. They can’t make the same mistake as last year and not solidify their blue line defensively. They need a more substantial net-front presence. Another offensive defenseman won’t cut it when the play gets physical on an every-other-night basis.
On the past road trip, which had stops in three different time zones, Swayman started three of four games (1-1-1), two of which were against the last two Stanley Cup Champs, and he held his own in two OT losses. Then he took care of the Devils in that matinee game. Swayman has started the last three games for the first time since the 2022 playoffs. He’s made his case that it’s his time.
“It’s nice to be able to see him have this opportunity,” said Bruins coach Jim Montgomery. “If Linus wasn’t injured, we wouldn’t have seen it. But his makeup is someone that wants the net every night. Linus has that, too. With the swagger he brings, it feels like he never gets tired, and he is in tremendous shape and condition. So that probably helps his mental, but his mental attitude is positivity. He exudes it, and it goes through our bench.”
“When I look at Sway’s [Swayman} game, I think he continues to improve,” added Montgomery. “He’s much better this year than he was last year. His game management is better: when to take the face-off, when not to, when to move the puck up, recognizing the other team’s changing, and when we can catch them. And then just his overall presence in the crease. He’s always had a swagger and confidence to him, but now he really seems to be dialed in as far as tracking and depth in the crease.”
When asked Monday why he brought up arbitration, Swayman quickly said, “It’s something that I’ve experienced. So I am allowed to lean on my experience when things happen, and that’s what I did.”
“I love it, the stuff that I see from Sway,” forward David Pastrnak said after Monday’s win. He wants to get better every day. He is not afraid of the challenge, and what I love about him… He’s so confident, in the right way. It’s been fun to watch him, and you can feel the confidence in him.”
“I love when people know that because I know that I want the net every night,” said Swayman when asked about Mongomery’s comments. “And that’s what I want my teammates to know, that’s what I want my coaches to know, what I want this organization to know. I absolutely love being in the net. That’s where I feel most comfortable. That’s what I was born to do. Every opportunity that I get, I don’t take it for granted. I enjoy it to the fullest; I have a smile on my face every time, and I look forward to more.”
Between the arbitration comments, the injury to Ullmark, and the performance during that absence, Swayman grabbed his chance by the horns. Not to mention, he’s better in the postseason than Ullmark.
Each has eight appearances; Swayman is 3-4, 2.79, and .901, while Ullmark is 3-5, 3.54, and .888. For context, Swayman’s first appearance came in relief of Rask for the third period of the elimination game against the New York Islanders in 2020-21. Many argued he should have started that series from game one.
The following year, Ullmark’s first with Boston, Ullmark went 0-2 to open the series against the Carolina Hurricanes before Boston switched to Swayman, who went 3-2. Boston could not score during the four games in Raleigh, NC, so each went 2-2 on the road, but Swayman had the better stats. 2.63 and .911 to Ullmark’s 4.16 and .860.
Last year, the Bruins rode Ullmark through the first six games, going 3-3, before putting Swayman in for the deciding game seven, a 4-3 OT loss. Swayman just has yet to get a fair shake in the postseason. He has the mentality for it.
Through 43 games this season, Swayman has a slight edge over Ullmark in the statistical categories that matter. Swayman has a .922 save percentage compared to Ullmark’s .916 and a 2.38 goals-against average compared to Ullmark’s 2.70. They are small margins, but Ullmark isn’t playing like he did last year, which was probably an anomaly.
Over the summer, Ullmark addressed the possibility of one of the two, primarily him, getting traded this past off-season. The 30-year-old Swede knows the writing is on the wall.
“It’s crossed my mind, yeah. I mean, I’m not going to lie; that’s the business part of it. That’s what we live in,” Ullmark said of a move being made. “When you have two goalies that are so close when it comes to stat-wise, there’s got to be some changes, probably. And hopefully, like I think, for both of us, that we both want to be together and we want to stay in Boston because that’s where we thrive, and you see the success that we’ve had, and we’ve just got to see, you know, there’s a personal side to it, and there’s a business side to it, and you’ve got to honor it. That’s just how being a professional hockey player is.”
Ullmark has been tremendous for the Bruins, but he’s a Swedish version of Rask. It was a solid regular season and a lackluster postseason. Now is the time to switch to Swayman full-time before it’s too late.