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Health and future of goaltending looms as largest question for Bruins as trade deadline nears

Bruins rookie goaltender Jeremy Swayman won his first two starts, allowing just four goals.Nick Wass/Associated Press

It is a tale as old as horsehair pads: a hot rookie goalie gets a fan base frothing.

Don’t get us wrong, now. It’s easy to fall in love with Jeremy Swayman, all smiling confidence and well-coached technique and scarcity of rebounds. Entering the weekend, the Alaskan ace-in-training had a pair of big-league wins. He had allowed four goals, not one his fault (two the product of his defense, and two 5-on-3 missiles). He made 71 saves on his first 75 NHL shots faced (.947 save percentage).

There’s a lot to like, here. Particularly after fellow newbie Dan Vladar allowed nine goals and put up a .922 save percentage in his first four starts. Both have made several high-end saves, stopping breakaways and sure-thing goals.


Tuukka who?

Let’s pump the brakes, there.

Swayman does look legitimate, and Vladar, though less polished, looks like a capable NHL netminder. But one week (or a few weeks, in Vladar’s case) of strong play does not mean the future has arrived. As of this writing, the 22-year-old Swayman had beaten four teams as a pro (10-1-0): the Washington Capitals, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Hartford Wolf Pack, and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Not every save was clean. Not every puck touch was made under duress. Teams will eventually get a book on him. He will take his lumps.

“I can’t project down the road,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Let’s get a few games under his belt and see where it goes. It’s a tough position. We saw that with the guy we played against the other night, Carter Hart. He’s had his share of ups and downs.”

Hart, anointed the savior for puckstopper-starved Philadelphia, got the Flyers to Game 7 of the second round last season as a sophomore. He entered the weekend with the lowest save percentage (.873) in the league. He’s the same age as Swayman and a year younger than Vladar. He has time to recover from this nosedive.


The Flyers turned the net over to Hart after he spent a half-season in the AHL. The Bruins exercise more patience with their goalies, directed for the last 17 years by former NHL journeyman “Goalie BobEssensa. No one gets the net full time without considerable minor-league seasoning. Vladar has it (five years pro) and Swayman (11 pro games, as of Friday) does not.

Tuukka Rask was 22, with two full years in Providence under his belt, when he supplanted the injured Tim Thomas for 2009-10. Andrew Raycroft, 23 in his Calder Trophy-winning season (2003-04), had two years in the “A,” plus 21 NHL games over his first three pro seasons.

The last Bruins rookie to make the jump from college was Blaine Lacher, out of Lake Superior State. Arriving in 1994, Lacher had a 52-game run, including one playoff series loss, and was not heard from again. His old teammates, Don Sweeney and Cam Neely, now comprising the brass on Causeway Street, no doubt remember him as Exhibit A in fleeting goalie phenoms.

Older heads will recall Tom Barrasso jumping from Acton-Boxborough High School to the Buffalo Sabres in 1983, and Mike Moffat’s 15 minutes of fame the year before. Fresh from the OHL, Moffat shed his Kingston Canadians letterman’s jacket, won the last two games of the 1981-82 regular season, and coach Gerry Cheevers rode him for 11 playoff starts. Anxiety led to shakiness in his play, and he washed out of the league 16 games later.


Today’s goalies are stronger physically and mentally, better coached and calmer under pressure. Any keeper who reaches the NHL has received specialized training from a young age. Maybe Swayman is indeed the real deal, and Vladar a competent challenger for the No. 1 job. If so, the Bruins would have decisions to make on Rask and Jaroslav Halak, both without contracts for next year.

About that: It makes no sense for the Bruins to sign either with the Seattle expansion draft looming. They wouldn’t likely risk losing them in free agency. Rask, 34, has said he doesn’t want to play anywhere else. Halak, 35, is a respected veteran backup on a good team, an ideal fit for this stage of his career.

The Bruins also do not have to protect the Anchorage-raised Swayman from Seattle. Players in their first two pro seasons are exempt. Protecting Vladar is an easy decision. Teams must expose one goalie who is under contract next year or a restricted free agent; the latter designation applies to taxi-squadder Callum Booth.

Entering the weekend, the last before Monday’s trade deadline, the health, effectiveness, and future of the goaltending loomed as the largest question surrounding the Bruins.

Rask, believed to be dealing with a wonky back, has played one period of hockey in the previous month. If he was not available for the stretch run, how confident would general manager Sweeney and president Neely be in Boston’s chances at a Cup? How would Halak, who spent much of last week on the COVID-19 list, recover from his bout?


Both have long playoff résumés. But on balance, neither goalie had been anything more than average this year. Of the 62 goalies with more than 500 minutes played, Rask ranked 34th in save percentage and goals saved above average. Halak was 29th and 31st. Can Rask shake a so-so regular season and lead the Bruins on a deep run?

A separate question: Assuming he can, and Halak is healthy, should the Bruins trade the latter to a team in need of a serviceable backup?

The Blues, struggling to stay in the playoff race in the West (3-8-4 in their last 15 as of Thursday night), have history with Halak (2015 All-Star), and that particular need. They also have a left-shot defenseman who would fit nicely in Boston (Vince Dunn) and a rental winger (Mike Hoffman) who is elite at shooting (power-play one-timers, in particular) and average at everything else. The goal-starved Bruins might try him on a pure scoring line, with David Krejci and Nick Ritchie, and the second power-play unit for a few months. Ondrej Kase isn’t walking through that door; Cassidy commented recently that anything the oft-injured winger gives the Bruins would be “gravy.”

Jake DeBrusk, who would be a candidate for Seattle if he’s not moved, could make sense in a deal for Dunn, or with Anaheim if the Ducks, a regular trading partner for the Bruins, would surrender lefty D Hampus Lindholm.


By 3 p.m. Monday, we should know a lot about how the Bruins view the future of their crease, how much risk they’re willing to bear, and how bold they’re willing to be.

Tough spot

Cassidy reflects on UMass situation

UMass's Carson Gicewicz did not play in the Frozen Four against Minnesota-Duluth due to COVID-19 protocols.Steven G. Smith

It looked like a brutal blow for UMass. COVID-19 protocol knocked four players, including leading goal scorer Carson Gicewicz and top goalie Filip Lindberg, out of Thursday’s Frozen Four semifinal in Pittsburgh against Minnesota Duluth.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy was offering his condolences.

He was thinking of what it would be like to be barred from the Memorial Cup as an Ottawa 67s junior in the early ’80s.

“There was no COVID back then. There were all kinds of mullets,” Cassidy cracked. “It would have been awful. You play your whole season for that. At their age, their whole life is school, obviously your family, and hockey. And maybe the odd guy’s married and started a family at that age. Most guys, that’s what they’re there for.

“They went to play hockey, get an education, and who knows what order for some of the kids, right? And that’s fine. To not be able to get a chance, especially after going through a tough division for years with some high-end schools, and they finally push through and the program looks like it’s excelling. I feel bad for those kids.”

Their teammates picked them up. UMass dominated 14-plus minutes of overtime before Garrett Wait sent the Minutemen to the final, in the process dethroning the two-time NCAA champion Bulldogs. UMD had won nine straight OT games in the tournament, a streak dating to the shaggy-haired year of 1985.

Right after the game, UMass announced three of the four — Gicewicz, Lindberg, and third-string netminder Henry Graham — were cleared to travel to Pittsburgh for the championship game. Lindberg then pitched a shutout in a 5-0 win over St. Cloud State on Saturday night.

There were no Cale Makars on this team, but several solid players, including defender Zac Jones, a Rangers pick (third round, 2019). The undrafted Gicewicz, a fifth-year transfer from St. Lawrence, broke out for 17 goals this year (T-4th in NCAA) after scoring 21 the previous four years. Lindberg, a junior drafted by Minnesota (seventh round, 2019), led the nation with a .946 save percentage and 1.33 goals against average. The Wild, second in the NHL in save percentage entering the weekend, don’t have a pressing need to bring him in.

Goals and assists

Bergeron and Marchand quite a duo

Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have combined for 81 points this season.Winslow Townson/Associated Press

Fun with Black and Gold numbers:

▪ From the wizards in the NHL’s stats department, we find that entering Thursday, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand had factored on the same goal 329 times in the regular season:. That’s 135 Bergeron goals with a Marchand assist, 127 Marchand goals with a Bergeron assist, and 67 goals assisted by both Bergeron and Marchand.

Thus, Marchand factored on 329 of Bergeron’s 902 career points (36.5 percent), and Bergeron factored on 329 of Marchand’s 691 career points (47.6 percent).

By number of times factoring on the same goal, they rank third among active player duos:

487 — Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (Capitals)

399 — Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry (Ducks, no longer teammates)

329 — Bergeron and Marchand

321 — Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (Penguins)

291 — Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown (Kings)

They also rank second in Bruins history:

406 — Phil Esposito and Ken Hodge

329 — Bergeron and Marchand

306 — Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr

▪ According to data tracked by Corey Sznajder, the Bruins are No. 1 in setting up shots off faceoff plays, by a large degree. Some 13.9 percent of their shots come off the draw. Vegas (12.1) is second. This is largely because they have arguably the best faceoff-winning No. 1 center in the league, named above. Entering the weekend, Bergeron had won a career-high 62.9 percent of his draws, the best mark in the league. Mr. Selke has finished above 60 percent three times: 2013, 2014-15 and 2016-17.

▪ What happens if David Pastrnak gets hot? Last year’s co-Rocket Richard winner had five goals in his first three games this season. He had 11 in his next 27, and entered the weekend T-15th in goals (16-16—32 in 30 games). No chance of catching Auston Matthews (28 in 37 games), but a hot streak by No. 88 would do wonders for this club, especially since Craig Smith has done a solid job in Pastrnak’s old spot on the No. 1 line. In nearly an hour of 5 on 5 ice time together (per Natural Stat Trick),Marchand, Bergeron, and Smith were getting 65 percent of the game’s shots, 62 percent of the scoring chances, and outscoring opponents, 7-1.

Loose pucks

No surprise to see Lou Lamoriello taking the first swing at the 2021 trade deadline, calling up his old pals in Newark and prying two veterans to chase a Stanley Cup on Long Island. His Islanders can roll out a “B Killer” line that includes Kyle Palmieri (5-1—6 in six games against Boston this year) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (5-3—8 in six games). Palmieri, lifted from the Devils along with Travis Zajac (both at 50 percent off), has nine goals in 23 career games against Boston. Pageau, the ex-Senator, has 11 in 28 games ... Palmieri was all but unrecognizable at his first practice with the Islanders, free of his hirsute beard per Lamoriello policy. “Honestly shocked Lou let him keep his eyebrows,” said Devils defenseman Connor Carrick ... Though he’s having a down year, Vancouver signing middle-six scorer Tanner Pearson for $3.25 million over three years seems like a reasonable enough deal. Reasonable, that is, if there wasn’t a flat cap, there wasn’t trade protection for two-thirds of the deal, and Vancouver wasn’t cap-tight with dead money and underperforming depth players. When considering that they let Tyler Toffoli walk to Montreal for $1 million more last offseason, it seems wacko. Entering the weekend, Toffoli (19-11—30) was T-7th in the NHL in goals. Pearson had six goals. According to PuckPedia, Jim Benning was looking at $17.5 million in offseason cap space to fill out a roster that had 15 players on it, not including RFAs-to-be Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. Good luck … The most intriguing piece in Thursday’s Chicago-Florida deal, which cleared Brett Connolly’s $2.425 million hit from the Panthers’ books: Henrik Borgstrom, who returned to the Finnish Liiga after three seasons in the Panthers’ organization. Known as “The Artist” while playing for Denver, the 23-year-old center has size (6 feet 3 inches, 198 pounds) and an impressive handle … In Montreal, Brendan Gallagher’s broken finger will keep him out until at least the start of the playoffs. Might this open the door for Cole Caufield, the pint-sized point getter from Wisconsin (49-39—88 in 67 NCAA games), to work his way up from AHL Laval? He isn’t a crease-crashing, rebound-cashing spark plug like Gallagher, but he can shoot it. His 30 goals this season were 11 more than the second-best sniper in college hockey … Best wishes to former Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin, 34, who collapsed the day after a playoff game with Avangard Omsk of the KHL. Initial reports said Emelin needed a liver transplant because of acute liver failure. The club refuted those stories, stating that it considered them “a provocation aimed at destabilizing the situation in the team before the most important game.” Avangard was playing in the Eastern Conference final of the Gagarin Cup against Ak Bars Kazan … Fitting that UMass had Matt Murray in net and a guy named Kessel playing key roles in a playoff game in Pittsburgh. The latter is defenseman Matt Kessel, no relation to Phil, though he was born in Arizona … Shakeup in the NWHL: Anya Packer, the BU alum and Forbes “30 under 30″ honoree who was heading the players association, is the new GM of the Metropolitan Riveters (likely on the no-trade list: her wife, Madison, the team’s captain). Outgoing GM Kate Whitman linked up with W Hockey Partners, the ownership group that controls four of the league’s six teams (the Riveters, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale, and Minnesota Whitecaps). She assumes the role vacated by NWHL founder Dani Rylan Kearney … Big Ned, the documentary film about 2019 Hall of Famer Vaclav Nedomansky and his groundbreaking defection from Czechoslovakia, is on track for a late-2021 release. His son, former minor leaguer Vashi Nedomansky, has been dealing with heavy usage fees for hours of archival footage from Europe, the NHL, and WHA. “The creative is done but the legal components always take longer than expected,” the younger Nedomansky said. “Excited to share it with the world.” … Dallas netminder Anton Khudobin, on what he did during his latest COVID layoff: “I talked to the friends because a lot of people asked me, ‘What, again?’ It looks like it’s a false positive, so I’m just waiting. Nap. Eat. Sleep.” He then went on a tangent about being unable to watch the Stars game on TV because of technical difficulties. “You just staying in the room, ordering food, talking to the friends. Sleep. Eat. Sleep. Eat. Watch TV. Watch computer.” He can’t be the only NHLer who can’t wait to hit the reset button next season.

Matt Porter can be reached at Follow him @mattyports.