Sabres_Bruins_Hockey_74435

Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman makes a glove save on a shot by Sabres right wing Tage Thompson during the shootout in an April 13 game in Boston. AP photo

Jeremy Swayman belongs in the NHL. Even with the small sample size of five games, that is obvious.

Friday night, the former University of Maine goalie earned his first NHL shutout, leading the Boston Bruins to a 3-0 win over the New York Islanders. Swayman made 25 saves, and the Bruins won their third consecutive game. Boston sits six points ahead of the New York Rangers for the fourth and final playoff spot in this season’s reconfigured East Division. With Tuukka Rask recently out with a back injury and Jaroslav Halak on the NHL’s COVID-19 list, Swayman was brought up from the Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Providence and thrust into the spotlight of a playoff race.

And he has excelled. Goaltender is not a position that allows for faking your way through. Your success or failure is on full display. You stop pucks, or you don’t stop pucks. As he did for the Black Bears for three seasons, Swayman continues to stop pucks. The Bruins are 4-1 in Swayman’s five starts. He boasts a .938 save percentage and a 1.78 goals against average. Swayman has earned more time in the Bruins net. Nobody should feel the need to rush Halak back from his illness. If Rask’s creaky back continues to bark, give him more time off.

In a short time, Swayman has passed Dan Vladar — Boston’s other young goaltending prospect — on the depth chart. Anyone who watched Swayman over his three seasons in Orono should not be surprised. He was a good goalie when he arrived at Maine, and got better.

NHL shooters will study Swayman and find weak spots. If Swayman is half the goalie he seems to be, he knows what those weak spots are and is working to improve them.

Swayman played  100 games as a Black Bear. In 2019-2020, Swayman was the biggest reason Maine was in contention for a spot in the NCAA tournament when the season shut down due to the pandemic. His .939 save percentage and 2.07 goals against average earned Swayman the Mike Richter Award as college hockey’s top goalie, first team all-America honors, and a spot as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, which goes to the top player in college hockey.

Maine has a long history of sending good goalies to the NHL. Garth Snow and Mike Dunham, the tandem who shared the net for Maine’s 42-1-2 national championship winning team in 1993, each enjoyed a solid NHL career. Jimmy Howard had a long career as the top goalie for the Detroit Red Wings. Ben Bishop was a finalist for the NHL’s top goalie award, the Vezina Trophy, in 2019 with the Dallas Stars, and in 2016 with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It’s too early to fit Swayman for a tux and invite him to the NHL awards show. It’s not too early to think of his future between the pipes in Boston. Rask has been one of the league’s top goalies for around a decade. He’s also a free agent at the end of the season, 34 years old, and currently fighting a back problem. If Swayman continues to prove he can do the job — and he’s shown no reason to think he cannot — it makes sense to thank Rask for his years of service and let him move on to another team or move home to Finland. Better to let a guy walk a year early than a year late, right?

Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron, right, high-fives goalie Jeremy Swayman after Bergeron scored a goal during the first period of an April 6 game against the Flyers in Philadelphia. AP photo

Bring back Halak (also a free agent to-be) or another veteran as a backup, or go with a Swayman-Vladar tandem. The Bruins don’t have to worry about losing Swayman to the Seattle Kraken in the upcoming expansion draft. He’s exempt.

The Bruins have 14 games left in the regular season. Five of them against the woeful Buffalo Sabres. There are points to be had. Even if you assume Rask and Halak are healthy down the stretch, Swayman has earned more NHL playing time. There’s nothing more for him to learn in the AHL. All he’d do in Providence is play empty calorie minutes.

It has to be noted, Swayman’s only loss thus far with the Bruins came April 10, a 3-2 loss to Philadelphia. That was the day after Swayman’s former coach at UMaine, Red Gendron, died unexpectedly. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy gave Swayman the option of taking the night off, but Swayman refused and did his job, just as Gendron would’ve wanted. Three days later, Swayman beat the Sabres in a shootout to give the Bruins a win. As the game ended, he looked to the sky and pointed, a nod to his beloved coach.

As Swayman’s career progresses, we’ll hear all sorts of stuff about his athleticism and ability to be in the right position to stop pucks, but that moment showed his greatest asset, the trait that will serve Swayman well as he puts himself between the goal line and the best scorers in the world.

Swayman is mentally tough. Seeing him on the ice after great personal loss, you know that’s why he’s going to succeed.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.