Nick Goss

Bruins' Linus Ullmark making strong case to start Game 1 of playoffs

Ullmark has been one of the NHL's best goalies since the trade deadline.

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The Boston Bruins have two goaltenders worthy of being the starter in Game 1 of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but after another sparkling performance, Linus Ullmark deserves to have a small edge over Jeremy Swayman with about two weeks remaining in the regular season.

As recently as Tuesday, I still leaned slightly toward Swayman as the Game 1 starter. The ideal scenario for the Bruins is Swayman being the No. 1 guy, winning at least one round in the playoffs and signing a long-term extension in the offseason. His age fits the timeline of the Bruins' other cornerstone players, and he has the potential to be a top 10 goalie for a long time.

But the No. 1 job, and the role of starting Game 1 of the playoffs, shouldn't just be handed out. It has to be earned. And right now, Ullmark has a strong case to be in the crease to begin the postseason.

Ullmark played fantastic in Tuesday night's 3-0 road win over the Nashville Predators -- a desperate team fighting to hold on to one of the wild card playoff berths in the Western Conference.

The Swedish netminder pitched a 31-save shutout, including eight high-danger saves and 14 total saves in the third period. The Predators had an expected goals of 2.68 based on the quality of their scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick, but Ullmark kept them off the board with many impressive stops.

"Spectacular," Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said postgame about Ullmark's outing, per the team. "I thought their goalie was really good too. But our goalie was like an onslaught, he had to be down in his crouch, he had to be finding pucks through a lot of traffic. A lot of great plays they were able to make at times and he made some saves look easy."

Ullmark even picked up an assist on Charlie Coyle's shorthanded goal that gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead at 13:18 of the third period.

“We could talk about him all night and how he played and the saves and keeping us tied, keeping us ahead time after time,” Coyle told reporters postgame, per the team.

“And playing that puck on the PK and getting it up there around their guy to spring us, that’s huge. You don’t really expect those plays from your goalie to make those big-time plays and assist one like that, but it sure helped, and he played a heck of a game even besides that.”

Ullmark has been a different player since the March 8 trade deadline, which hasn't been very surprising after he admitted that the trade deadline really weighed on him.

Here's where he ranks in several key stats since the deadline among all goaltenders who have made at least three starts during that span:

  • Save percentage: .950 (4th)
  • 5-on-5 save percentage: .954 (7th)
  • High-danger save percentage: .898 (5th)
  • GAA: 1.51 (4th)
  • Goals saved above expected (GSAA): 8.06 (4th)

Swayman has a .859 save percentage with a 3.37 GAA in five starts since the trade deadline. He has posted a .899 save percentage and a 3.05 GAA in 14 games since the All-Star break in early February.

The stats between Ullmark and Swayman are now almost identical after Swayman had a decent advantage for most of the campaign.

  • Swayman: 41 GP, 24-8-8, .916 SV%, 2.56 GAA
  • Ullmark: 37 GP, 20-9-7, .917 SV%, 2.57 GAA

The Bruins have a tough schedule over the next week, including two games against the Carolina Hurricanes, one against the Florida Panthers and one against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Therefore, both of these goaltenders should have a couple more opportunities to strengthen their case to be the Game 1 starter.

We still don't know if the Bruins will stick with one goalie or use an actual rotation come playoff time. It's quite possible the team doesn't know yet, either. But Ullmark should have the edge right now in the battle to start Game 1. He's been the better and more consistent goalie over the last month.

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