NEW YORK — Jeremy Swayman was walking toward a locker stall inside the visitors’ dressing room at Madison Square Garden Thursday night, smiling and ready to talk about a stellar 31-save performance he’d just turned in to anchor the Bruins’ 3-1 win over the Rangers. Before he even started, a team spokesperson announced that David Pastrnak, a newly named NHL All-Star, would be taking questions at the same time.
Swayman laughed, knowing a good portion of the media would shift Pastrnak’s way. But he wasn’t bothered. He knows this truth to be quite evident: To be a Bruin these days means sharing the spotlight.
And for this particular backup goaltender, playing behind leading Vezina Trophy candidate Linus Ullmark simply means doing your part when you get the chance. Such is the luxury of a roster built with depth and quality seemingly at every position, and the dominant tandem of Ullmark and Swayman has emerged as one more reason to believe in this team’s championship dream.
Swayman was outstanding against the Rangers, delighted to be playing in a building his father frequented as a young fan from nearby Canarsie in Brooklyn, satisfied to have stepped up with two wins in the team’s three games across four days. But where Monday’s 29-save performance against the Flyers was impressive, it was part of a 6-0 laugher. Against the Rangers, who have talent and skill and plenty of playoff dreams of their own, Swayman stepped up a notch.
“He’s been terrific, honestly,” captain Patrice Bergeron said. “He’s been poised, seeing every shot, always in position. I can’t say enough about him and his demeanor between the pipes.
“He’s ready every time he’s asked and gives us a chance to win every time, and it’s great to see every time he’s having a game like he was having tonight. It gives you confidence.”
If Bergeron was the emotional center of the night, returning from that brutal puck to the face during Wednesday night’s win over the Islanders to not only take his place in the lineup but contribute with a scorching goal that gave the Bruins a 2-0 second-period lead, it was Swayman who earned his postgame praise.
“Sway kept us in the game a few times tonight,” Bergeron said.
Swaddled by the comforts of an early 1-0 lead — and we’re talking a mere 1:19 into the game, thanks to Pavel Zacha’s swift completion of a pass from David Krejci — Swayman got to work denying just about everything the Rangers were throwing his way. The piece de resistance came at 13:08 of the second period when Swayman stopped a breakaway by the dangerous Artemi Panarin, who had gotten past Charlie McAvoy and was cooking with gas on the way toward the goal.
“He just keeps getting better and better,” coach Jim Montgomery said. “What I liked was how he was reading everything. He made really hard saves look pretty easy. Like the Panarin breakaway. Panarin’s looking to go five-hole and he read it.”
“[Panarin] is a talented player,” Swayman said. “He’s got a lot of moves and I know he had a lot of speed, he had pressure behind him, so it was going to be either a quick shot or a quick move. I was happy with the save.”
It was his best stop, but it was far from his only impressive one. In fact, after the Bruins failed to add to that early 1-0 lead despite holding a five-on-three advantage for 1:41 and a regular power play for the other 29 seconds, Swayman was particularly stout across the final, frantic 3:33 of the first period.
“I thought the last four minutes of the first period the Rangers pushed on us and they had momentum from us not scoring on the five-on-three, and I thought Swayman had to make two or three excellent saves,” Montgomery said.
“It’s important. It allows us to maintain our lead, allows us to get into the dressing room and regroup mentally and get back to our game. We had lost it a little bit mentally and the Rangers were the better team there.”
Not for long. Not against a team that is built for the long haul, that has plenty of talent and skill, but also has the sort of locker room alchemy that has an uber-competitive pro like Swayman more than ready to share a spotlight if that’s what it’s going to take to keep rolling. He and Ullmark aren’t just the best goalie tandem in hockey — they’re great friends as well.
“It’s just so natural, the chemistry is unbelievable,” he said. “We thrive off each other and it’s a lot away from the rink. I just feel I’m part of his family and he’s part of mine. Every time I talk to my dad, he’s like, ‘Tell Linus I said hi.’ It’s pretty special to have a bond like that.
“If we’re both competing on a high level, we’re both going to help the team win. That’s all we care about.”
As Connor Clifton, scorer of the third Bruins goal, put it, “We have so much confidence in those goalies. They’re both playing incredible. Really comfortable with them behind us. Knowing they’re the last layer, it’s pretty great.”