Searching for a foothold in net for the first quarter of the season, the Bruins finally got a No. 1 starter’s performance out of Jeremy Swayman in their 2-0 victory over the Predators Thursday night in Nashville.
The Predators fired off 75 shots, 42 of which made it to Swayman, and the 23-year-old rookie snuffed out every one of them. He was cool, calm, and in control, reminiscent of the onetime UMaine player who was the Richter Award winner as college hockey’s top goaltender in his final season with the Black Bears.
All of which is almost certain to have Swayman back on the job Saturday night with the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning at the Garden. Yet the Bruins are in need of a streak longer than the three W’s they strung together in mid-November (New Jersey-Montreal-Philadelphia) to get comfortably into the pack of 5-6 solid playoff contenders, the Lightning among them, in the East.
For the moment, Swayman looks like the best candidate to back that kind of run.
“He was tracking pucks very well,” said acting head coach Joe Sacco following the win. “Certainly I think it was one of his better games. We needed him when they pushed, and he came up with some big saves.”
One of Swayman’s better stops came with just under six minutes left in the second period when he bricked up against Eeli Tolvanen’s doorstep jam off the rush, keeping the lead at 2-0. It was a timely stop on a high-danger attempt, Tolvanen denied on one of the many examples of the Predators finding seams in the Boston defense and funneling pucks into the middle.
Asked what he felt were the strengths of his game, Swayman said, “I’d look at how I was tracking pucks. I’d look at rebound control. I’d look at where I was on three-on-two rushes and two-on-one rushes. Anywhere from point shots, screens, just all those things you want to make sure you’re doing well every game.”
Bruce Cassidy, away from the bench the last two games because of COVID protocol, started to say roughly a month ago that he wanted one of his tenders, Linus Ullmark or Swayman, to fall into rhythm and handle the bulk of the workload for a stretch. No one on the coaching staff was available Friday, the club opting to take a day off after traveling back on a late-night charter from Nashville.
Given the Bruins’ spot in the standings, atop the leading wild-card contenders, it would follow that Swayman will be back in there against Tampa Bay.
“We’ll talk about that as a staff [Friday],” said Sacco. “We’ll go from there.”
The shutout, his first this season and third of his career, improved Swayman’s record to 7-4-0 with a 2.20 GAA and .921 save percentage. Ullmark, the loser in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Red Wings at the Garden, is 5-4-0, 2.68, .911.
It’s time for some traction. It looks like Swayman has it.
“You want to get into a rhythm,” said Swayman. “It’s been great to share the net with Linus, and both have opportunities to play back-to-backs. We obviously want what’s best for the team. We’re great buddies, so we want what’s best for each other as well. It’s a great atmosphere to be in and great to be a part of.”
No word on Zboril
No word Friday on the status of young defenseman Jakub Zboril, who was felled early in the second period when his right leg folded up awkwardly as he fell along the boards when clobbered by charging winger Tanner Jeannot.
Sacco offered little about Zboril’s condition postgame in Nashville, other than to say he would be reevaluated in Boston. Zboril was in obvious pain as he was helped off the ice by Patrice Bergeron and Taylor Hall.
Connor Clifton, kicked to the sidelines the last couple of weeks as Zboril’s game emerged, is the only viable candidate to move into an open spot on the blue line. The Providence WannaBs, riddled with COVID infections, cannot send relief troops to the varsity.
The game vs. Tampa Bay will mark the end of Brad Marchand’s three-game suspension for a slew-foot he delivered last Sunday against the Canucks. His spot on the No. 1 line again will be filled by Hall, allowing Erik Haula another game at No. 2 left wing with Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith.
His performance in Nashville was Haula’s best this season, which could mean the Bruins look at him more as a winger than a center for the time being.
“When I first signed here, we kind of talked about it that I pride myself on versatility, being able to play anywhere I’m put,” Haula said. “So that kind of sums it up. If it’s wing, center, or wherever it is, just focus on my game.”
What’s the deal?
Jake DeBrusk, who picked up his fourth goal of the season in Nashville, is expected back on a No. 4 line with Tomas Nosek and Curtis Lazar — unless he is dealt in the meantime, following his request to be moved.
DeBrusk has not commented publicly on his request, and twice Thursday declined a Globe interview.
General manager Don Sweeney confirmed this week that he has been looking to move DeBrusk, whose game slipped considerably last season.
Sweeney has a history of dealing with Anaheim (see: trades for Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase). With Haula’s production tepid at center, Sweeney could be looking to add there, possibly in the No. 2 hole that Coyle inherited from David Krejci.
One name possibly on the radar: veteran Ducks pivot Adam Henrique, the former Devil. Henrique, 6-10—16 in 23 games into weekend play, carries a high ticket: this year and two more at a $5.825 million cap hit. The emergence of ex-Boston University pivot Trevor Zegras could have the Ducks willing to listen to offers on Henrique, who will be 32 in February.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.