Nick Goss

Why Bruins should start Swayman in Game 5 with chance to eliminate Leafs

There's no reason to take Swayman out of the net when he's playing at such an elite level.

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The Boston Bruins have a chance to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs from the first round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Tuesday night at TD Garden, and it would be a massive mistake if Jeremy Swayman isn't the B's starting goalie for that matchup.

Swayman has been the Bruins' best and most consistent player in this series. The lopsided goaltending advantage Boston has enjoyed through four games -- which Swayman is mostly responsible for -- is the primary reason why the B's lead this series 3-1.

After alternating goalies through the first three games, the Bruins gave Swayman a second straight start in Saturday night's Game 4 at Scotiabank Arena. It was the first time a B's netminder made back-to-back starts since Swayman did it Feb. 19-21.

Swayman was lights out for the third time in Round 1, making 25 saves on 26 shots en route to a 3-1 victory.

"We rotated the first two games and then Swayman played so well, we were going to go with the hot hand," Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said in his postgame press conference.

Swayman's best stretch came in the five minutes after Mitch Marner got the Leafs on the board 5:54 into the third period. The Leafs made a strong push (10 scoring chances in the period) and had all the momentum, but they couldn't close the deficit further because Swayman stepped up with several clutch saves.

This stop on William Nylander might have been Swayman's best. It's a totally different game if Nylander scores here and trims Boston's lead to 3-2.

Just moments later, Swayman was well-positioned to make another key save on Joel Edmundson.

Swayman has been literally unbeatable against the Leafs this season. He is 6-0-0 with a .958 save percentage and a 1.32 GAA, including his three playoff starts in Round 1. He has allowed two or fewer goals in all six of these games versus Toronto.

Swayman's .957 save percentage ranks No. 1 among all playoff goalies. He also leads all netminders in goals saved above average (5.71) and high danger save percentage (.867). The Leafs' expected goals against Swayman is 9.27, based on the quality of their scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick. Their actual goals against Swayman is just four.

The Bruins penalty kill has been dominant in this series, too. This unit has allowed just one goal on 14 Leafs power plays through four games. Swayman has been one of the team's best penalty killers with 12 saves on 12 shots while shorthanded.

The goalie rotation has worked really well for the Bruins over the last two seasons. It's one of the reasons why both Swayman and Ullmark are fresh and playing well right now.

But there's absolutely no reason to move away from Swayman at the moment. You can't sit a goalie when he's playing at such an elite level and winning games. Montgomery said Thursday that Swayman might be in the Leafs’ heads, and it would be hard to argue that after Game 4.

It's also important to remember there's an extra day of rest between Games 4 and 5. The next matchup isn't until Tuesday. If Swayman starts Game 5, he will have played four games in 11 days, which isn't a strenuous workload at all.

Riding the hot hand with Swayman doesn't mean Ullmark won't see the net again in the playoffs. If the Bruins and Panthers both advance to the second round, it wouldn't be surprising to see Ullmark maybe play a few games in that series. He went 3-0-0 against the Panthers during the regular season and beat them three times in Round 1 last year.

The rotation doesn't have to go away for the rest of the postseason, but given how well Swayman is playing against the Leafs, plus the extra rest the schedule is providing, not starting him in Game 5 would be a giant mistep.

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