Jeremy Swayman and Dan Vladar showing a glimpse of Bruins future in net
With Tuukka Rask already out of action as he works his way from a back injury, Jaroslav Halak landed on the National Hockey League’s COVID-19 protocol list on Monday.
That left the Bruins with Dan Vladar and Jeremy Swayman. A combined three regular games under their belt, all from Vladar.
With two important games on deck against the Philadelphia Flyers the young duo stepped up to the plate, helping the Bruins earn three of a possible four points.
It started with Vladar on Monday.
"He's a very athletic guy, he never quits on a puck. That's what everyone loves about him,” said head coach Bruce Cassidy. “He's going to have to work on his technique like every other young goalie. Puck play, little details. He's a battler in there. Great for us.”
The start was Vladar’s fourth of the season. He’s gone 2-1-0-1 in that stretch with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage.
“It doesn’t matter in which league you’re playing, if you play a lot, it’s better,” said Vladar. “I really appreciate that the coaches are giving me a chance. And obviously that helps my game, too, because I feel more comfortable every minute that goes on.”
Vladar has been excellent for the Providence Bruins in the time he’s spent in the American Hockey League. In 73 games across five seasons, Vladar has a career 2.32 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage at the AHL level.
He led the AHL in goals-against average (1.79) and save percentage (.936) last season.
“I’m just living my dream, so I’m enjoying every second,” said Vladar. “I’m trying my best. I just want to stop everything.”
Swayman made his NHL debut Tuesday in Philadelphia, coming through with a memorable performance.
The 22-year old Swayman is getting his first taste of professional hockey after four successful seasons at the University of Maine.
Swayman won the Mike Richter Award in 2020, voted the most outstanding goalie in Division 1 hockey. Recent winners of the award include Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck, (2014) Vancouver's Thatcher Demko (2016) and Montreal's Cayden Primeau (2019).
Swayman’s teammates in front of him didn’t make his NHL debut an easy one as Swayman saw 25 shots in the second period, he made 40 saves in total.
"What I've been told is he's been used to some of those nights at Maine, but that's atypical of our team,” said Cassidy.
“I thought we did a nice job in the third, obviously, in front of him. He deserved it. He deserved much better support than we gave him, and he eventually got it in the third. I'm happy for him, got his first NHL win. Certainly earned it, important game for us. Good for Sway[man].”
Swayman looked nothing like a 22-year old making his NHL debut against a Flyers team chasing the Bruins in the standings. He was confident and he was calm.
Just another day at the office for the Anchorage, Alaska native. A fun one at that.
"It's a game and it's a game that I love. I enjoyed every second of it. That's what a lot of the vets told me going into it, especially [Rask],” said Swayman. “Enjoy it, it's once in a lifetime. That's exactly what I did. I love this game. To do it on the biggest stage with the best players in the world, how could you not have fun doing that? It was fun, it was fun."
It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-round draft or like in Swayman’s case, a fourth-round pick: making your NHL debut in net is a tough task.
A task that became more difficult when Charlie McAvoy was a late scratch with an upper-body injury, he’s listed as day-to-day.
But after allowing a 25-shot second period, the Bruins settled down in the third period for Swayman, allowing just four shots.
"He was great. Really happy for him, well deserved win," said Patrice Bergeron, who led the Bruins to victory with his first hat trick of the season. He also registered his 900th career point in the win.
"He was battling all night. He gave us a true chance to win, especially in that second period.”
It’s a very small sample size for both Vladar and Swayman, but it makes the Bruins goaltending situation a little more interesting moving forward and eventually into the summer.
Both Rask and Halak are unrestricted free agents in the offseason, and some speculated the Bruins could target a goalie with term at the trade deadline if Rask’s back injury continued to linger.
With Rask skating and on the road trip with the team, that seems extremely unlikely at this point.
But now, with Vladar’s performance this season, and an intriguing NHL debut for Swayman, does that reduce the chances of a Rask and Halak tandem next season?
Only time will tell...