With just eight games separating the Bruins from the postseason, Jim Montgomery overhauled a reliable segment of his lineup Thursday.
No, the Bruins bench boss didn’t yank David Pastrnak or another O-zone stalwart off the ailing power-play unit.
Nor was a veteran with plenty of mileage on the treads such as Patrice Bergeron given the night off against a Blue Jackets team with a minus-93 goal differential.
Rather, Montgomery opted to finally slow down his effective goaltending carousel. For the first time in close to two months, Linus Ullmark got the call for consecutive starts.
The alteration lies in the need to get Ullmark reacclimated to the workload that awaits when the calendar flips to the postseason.
“We figured this little run here we can get him three games in six days, that’s going to replicate a little bit of the playoffs,” Montgomery said following an optional skate at TD Garden. “It’s also going to allow [Jeremy] Swayman to get some games on the back end of that.”
Montgomery has had little reason to steer away from a game-by-game switch-off between Ullmark and Swayman over the past two months.
The last time Ullmark got consecutive starts was Jan. 29-Feb. 1 against potential postseason hurdles in the Hurricanes and Maple Leafs.
Since then, Ullmark has appeared in 12 games, posting a 10-2-0 record and a sterling .939 save percentage. Swayman has received the nod 11 times, winning eight while submitting three shutouts and a .931 save percentage.
That near-even distribution of reps has been mutually beneficial for all parties — especially for a Bruins team that has gone 18-5-0 over that stretch.
But there can be only one option when Montgomery has to construct a lineup for Game 1 in mid-April.
And even though he has not ruled out deploying a rotation in the postseason, Montgomery hasn’t steered away from his initial idea of Ullmark — the Vezina Trophy front-runner — getting the net for the postseason opener.
The plan to ramp up Ullmark’s reps over these final two-plus weeks falls under the watchful eye of goalie coach Bob Essensa.
Montgomery has the authority to reshuffle his lineup, but when it comes to the net, he is happy to defer to whatever Essensa charts out.
“He makes my life a lot easier,” said Montgomery. “From day one, I told him, ‘Just tell me who you think should start.’ I’ve never over-trumped him all year. I just asked him why, so that I can learn from him. And he’s been spot-on.
“It was his plan in the first place and he deviates from his plan because he just has such a great relationship with them and he understands from a goalie’s perspective, like, what allows them to have success.”
Ullmark, Charlie Coyle, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand were honored by the Bruins with 2022-23 season awards ahead of Thursday’s 2-1 win over the Blue Jackets.
Ullmark received the Elizabeth Dufresne Trophy for his outstanding performance on home ice and was picked as the team’s Second Star. Coyle won the Eddie Shore Award for exceptional hustle and determination, and Bergeron was selected for the John P. Bucyk Award for exceptional off-ice charitable contributions. Pastrnak was named First Star and Marchand was tabbed Third Star.
The Bruins and Blue Jackets came in separated by 66 points in the standings, but Montgomery made only marginal tweaks to his skating personnel. Jakub Lauko slotted in for A.J. Greer on the fourth line, while Jakub Zboril replaced Matt Grzelcyk on defense.
Both Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno again skated in red noncontact sweaters during Thursday’s optional skate.
Lucky No. 4?
Before claiming it with Thursday’s win, the Bruins had won the Presidents’ Trophy three times (1989-90, 2013-14, and 2019-20) since the award was introduced for the 1985-86 season. They fell to the Oilers in the 1990 Stanley Cup Final, and did not advance past the second round in both 2014 and 2020.