WASHINGTON — The storyline is changing, rapidly, and in a way no one expected of the Bruins this season. This was going to be the season young defenseman stepped forward and made an impact, and secondary scorers began to pop.
Yet, all of a sudden, the story is in net.
Of course, the sample size may be ridiculously small, all of 120 minutes total, but rookie Jeremy Swayman has shown signs he could be the homegrown goalie that the franchise never, ever, ever seems to draft and develop.
Swayman, 22, made 31 saves Thursday night, backing the Bruins to a stout 4-2 win over the Capitals in only his second career start. The former University of Maine stopper is now 2-0, having turned aside 71 of 75 shots (.947) over his two appearances, the first of those only Tuesday night when he made his NHL debut in Philadelphia.
Jeremy Lauzon, Anton Blidh and Brad Marchand all scored early for a 3-0 lead and Craig Smith knocked home a power-play goal with 3:05 remaining in the third to clinch the win.
Swayman again was composed, steady, tidy and seemingly unflappable, particularly midway through the second when the mighty Capitals struck for a pair of 5-on-3 power-play goals in a span of 19 seconds and cut a 3-0 Bruins lead down to a potential dog fight.
Instead, Swayman sealed the cage, turning away the final 14 shots that came his way over the final 30 minutes. Born in Anchorage, the kid’s as cool as a starlit Alaskan winter’s night.
“Every one of the guys came up to me and said, ‘It’s not on you,’” said Swayman, explaining his mindset in the second after Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie blasted their shots by him. “But again, as a goalie, all I want to do is stop the puck and help my teammates. So I evaluated it quick and then forgot about it, and all I worried about then was the next shot. Easy transition for me to keep my mind right and make sure I’m ready for the next shot.”
Afterward, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy agreed “100 percent” with a reporter’s depiction of Swayman being inordinately composed for an NHL newbie.
“Looks that way in the net,” added Cassidy. “Acts that way between periods. Acts that way before games. Listen, you don’t want to jump to anything . . . it’s two good hockey games, right? Again, no bad goals yet. Only good shots have beaten him. Made real high-end saves. Tracking pucks has been excellent so far . . . Washington’s got some big bodies, and we’ve got guys crowding the front of the net. He seems to be able to find loose pucks, get himself reset and in position. We like what we’ve seen so far.”
With No. 1 starter Tuukka Rask injured of late, and veteran backup Jaroslav Halak on the COVID-19 protocol list, Cassidy has had to turn to rookies Dan Vladar and Swayman. They’re a combined 4-1-1.
“So far so good,” said Cassidy. “Both young goaltenders getting a look this year. You never know what you have, but they’ve done a really good job with us missing Tuukka and Jaro, who’ve done a great job for us over the years. For a coach, you feel very grateful, no matter who you put in there, you’ve got a chance to win.
“Good for Sway. Hopefully he keeps moving forward and building his game.”
Cassidy noted that Swayman should not have been upset with the two goals here because they were excellent shots.
“But he could have started second-guessing himself, thinking, ‘Maybe I should have made those saves, I let a lead get away and now what?’” added Cassidy. “But I just think he moves on . . . He just gets back in there.
“Simply put, I think he just worries about making the next save, which is great mentality to have at any position, but particularly at goaltender.”
The Bruins could do virtually no wrong for the opening 25 minutes, bundling up a 3-0 lead on the goals by Lauzon, Blidh and Marchand (shorthanded).
A sudden series of penalties against the Bruins, some questionable, soon had the Capitals delivering the pair of quick-strike 5-on-3 power play goals.
Blidh set off the fire with a minor penalty against Lars Eller at 8:39. Amid his frustration, he picked up another minor, setting the Caps up with a four-minute power play, courtesy of Blidh’s roughing and slashing infractions.
Then it grew worse when rookie defenseman Jakub Zboril was sent off for interfering with Connor Sheary at 10:04. It was 5-on-3 time, and the Caps didn’t disappoint.
First, only four seconds into the two-man advantage, Ovechkin drove home one of his patented slappers from the top of the left wing circle.
The quick strike meant the Capitals remained on the 5-on-3 attack, and this time it took Oshie only 19 seconds to connect after the faceoff at center ice.
Lauzon, on the ice for the night’s opening puck drop, drove home his first goal this season with a seeing-eye slapper that bled through Ilya Samsonov’s pads and inched over the goal line near the left post.
Blidh’s goal was a gift, an easy forehand stuff at a wide open right post after Nick Jensen’s pass, intended for partner Zdeno Chara, ricocheted off the rear wall glass and popped to Blidh for the gimme.
Only 4:09 into the second period, with Zboril in the penalty box for a trip, Marchand boosted the lead to 3-0 with his shorty.