Linus Ullmark will be between the pipes for the Bruins in Thursday night’s home finale against the Sabres. Jeremy Swayman will end the regular season in net on the road Friday night against the Maple Leafs. Beyond that, coach Bruce Cassidy said he’ll keep his postseason goaltending plans close to the vest.
“Being the playoffs, we’re going to maybe be a little more coy about it than we typically would,” he said on Wednesday. “But we’ll certainly announce it as we get closer.”
Ullmark and Swayman have competed for the No. 1 spot since the start of the season, with a comeback attempt by Tuukka Rask thrown in for good measure. Swayman won Opening Night duties in October and weathered ups and downs to put together a strong rookie season (23-13-3, 2.37 goals-against average, .915 save percentage). But down the stretch, Ullmark (25-10-2, .2.51 GAA, .914 save percentage overall) has made a case for being the starter going into the playoffs.
“We’re still evaluating that,” Cassidy said. “I think Linus has been ahead of Swayman of late, numbers-wise, anyway, it’s been a little smoother for him.”
Ullmark is 8-1-0 over his last 11 games with a .937 save percentage and just 16 goals allowed, surging since going 2-2-0 with a 3.27 GAA and a .896 save percentage over four starts in February.
The difference for Ullmark between now and earlier in the season, Cassidy said, has been timely saves like one he made in Tuesday night’s 4-2 win over the Panthers. With the Bruins trailing, 1-0, in the first period, Ullmark denied Carter Verhaeghe on a breakaway with a glove save.
“There’s always three or four moments, and I think he’s been on the right side of them a lot more than maybe the start of the year,” Cassidy said. “And that builds confidence in your group. Let’s face it, any team that gets timely saves from your goaltender will always build confidence. The group is like, ‘OK, we can take a deep breath. We don’t have to be perfect. We can make some mistakes. He’s there for us.’ That, to me, is one of the biggest differences.”
The Bruins could know their first-round opponent by Thursday, but they’re preparing for all possibilities.
“That part of it is being taken care of now and then we’ll use it this weekend, whatever it turns out to be,” Cassidy said,
As it stands, with the Bruins in the first wild-card spot, they would face the second-place Hurricanes.
At 105 points, the Bruins are 3 behind Tampa Bay. But both teams have two games remaining. The Lightning play Columbus Thursday and the New York Islanders Friday. With one win, the Lightning would lock themselves into third in the Atlantic and a first-round series against the Maple Leafs.
If Tampa Bay loses its final two games and the Bruins win out, Boston would start the playoffs in Toronto.
Cassidy said the video coordinators have started putting together film on all possible matchups.
“We’ll focus on Buffalo tomorrow,” he said. “We might have a clearer picture after that game exactly who it is. We’ll still prepare for Toronto, but they’ve started chopping up some Carolina. We do that every year. It might go to waste, it might not.”
The benefit of breaking up the Bruins’ No. 1 line has been undeniable. David Pastrnak breathed life into the second line with Erik Haula and Taylor Hall.
But an unintended consequence may have been losing some continuity between Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand on the power play.
The trio still practices together. They run the same sets. But the only time they’re on the ice together is when the Bruins have the man-advantage.
“There’s a little bit of that natural chemistry that they lose on the power play by not playing five on five,” Cassidy said. “But I don’t see that as the major issue. That could be an underlying thing that periodically creeps in.”
Cassidy pointed to pacing and the lack of a threat of a righthanded shot while Pastrnak was out with a lower-body injury as two issues with the power play. The Bruins haven’t scored a PPG since April 2, going 0 for their last 36.
The playoffs start next week and the quick turnaround won’t allow for much time to clean things up in practice. While Cassidy believes a veteran-heavy team doesn’t necessarily need extra time to prepare for the postseason, he said it would be helpful to have the chance to work on the power play.
“We need the reps in games,” Cassidy said. “And I don’t know with two games left how much we’re going to get. That would be the one area where we could use a little extra time, but we’re not going to get it.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.