Why a Bruins goalie switch in Game 3 would be a panic move


BOSTON -- The stat sheet says Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark gave up five goals in Game 2 of his team's first-round playoff series against the Florida Panthers at TD Garden.

And, technically, that's correct.

But make no mistake: Boston's horrendous 6-3 loss Wednesday night was not Ullmark's fault. And that's one of the main reasons why giving the net to backup Jeremy Swayman for Game 3 in Florida on Friday night would be a panic move.

The Bruins played horribly in front of Ullmark in Game 2. In fact, it was one of their worst performances in their own zone in several months. The B's were credited with 15 (!) giveaways overall. And it wasn't a case of one or two guys having a horrible night -- 12 different players were credited with one giveaway.

Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery called his team's turnovers "catastrophic." That's a pretty accurate description, especially when you consider that at least two of those giveaways wound up in the back of their net.

The Panthers struck first in the second period when Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo couldn't clear the zone and gave away the puck. A couple seconds later Sam Bennett beat Ullmark all alone in front of the net.

The Bruins went down 4-2 seven minutes into the third period when Charlie McAvoy coughed up the puck along the boards and Carter Verhaeghe capitalized for the eventual game-winner.

There were plenty of times when Ullmark bailed out his teammates after they mismanaged the puck. One example came late in the first period. Ullmark made a phenomenal save on a breakaway by Panthers star Aleksander Barkov. Earlier in the period, Ullmark robbed Panthers forward Eetu Luostarinen on a Grade A scoring chance following a Tyler Bertuzzi turnover.

"He's played great all year. He played really good tonight, too," Bruins defenseman Hampus Lindholm said. "There were some big-time saves there for him, and I think we could have played a little better in front of him there and made those big saves count."

Ullmark is the clear favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. He became just the seventh player to win the goaltending triple crown by leading the league in victories (40), save percentage (.938) and goals against average (1.89). He's won three of his four starts against the Panthers this season.

Why would the Bruins give up on the league's best goalie after one bad game? He wasn't even the first, second or third reason why the B's lost Wednesday night. And let's not forget Ullmark was the Bruins' best player in their 3-1 victory in the series opener Monday night. He made 31 saves on 32 shots and slammed the door in the third period as the Panthers tried to mount a comeback.

The Bruins gave up on Ullmark after two games in last season's first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. Swayman played well, but not great, over the final five games and went 0-2 with seven goals against on the road, including a Game 7 loss in Carolina. The series is about to shift to Florida, where Swayman went 0-1-1 with a .881 save percentage and a 4.03 GAA (eight goals against) in two starts this season.

If you look at the entire campaign, Ullmark easily was the better goalie on the road. 

Ullmark got the Bruins to this point. Why risk damaging his confidence so early in the playoffs? If he's actually bad in Game 3, then maybe Montgomery should consider making a change. But right now is way too early to make a switch. 

Goalie rotations are not common among Stanley Cup champions. If you look at all 22 Stanley Cup winners this century, only five of them had a goalie who didn't earn all 16 of his team's victories in that playoff run. A couple of those five instances were because of injury or other circumstances not related to performance.

It's rare for a team to use a goalie platoon in the postseason and make a deep run. One guy shoulders the load until his performance nosedives or an injury becomes a major factor, and neither scenario has unfolded in this Bruins-Panthers series so far.

Ullmark deserves to start Game 3. Period.

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