By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- A little less than two weeks ago, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney all but confirmed that Tuukka Rask will be back on the team this year. Since then, the veteran netminder has even participated in practice with the team.
Clearly, the organization is moving toward a reunion with Rask, who's still just 34 years old and is the Bruins' all-time leader in wins. In the long term, perhaps Rask has plenty more to give to the Bruins.
In the short term, though, the addition of Rask would by necessity mean that rookie Jeremy Swayman would lose his spot on the NHL roster. And ever since Sweeney declared his team's goaltending to be "OK" but not good enough, Swayman has been dynamite.
The Bruins didn't win on Wednesday night, but it was hardly the fault of their 23-year-old goaltender. Swayman stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced in Vancouver, before getting beaten twice in the shootout. He stopped 13 shots in the third period to force OT, and he stopped three shots in overtime to get the game to a shootout. He only allowed one goal -- a redirect in the slot on a Vancouver power play -- on the night.
Swayman credited the Bruins' defensive "pride" in helping to make his job easier, but he still had to make a number of high-difficulty saves to keep the Bruins alive throughout the night.
"The main thing was just staying in the moment, not worrying about last year, not worried about this year, just making sure I'm doing whatever I can to help the team in the current game," Swayman said after the shootout loss. "There's a big difference from the start to now and I'm happy with it and going to continue that."
While Swayman has been excellent since making his NHL debut last season, he's been even better since Sweeney made his comments.
Swayman has made three starts this month. Though the Bruins are now 1-0-2 in those games, Swayman has stopped 95 of the 99 shots he's faced in nearly 186 minutes of ice time. He's posted a .960 save percentage in those three games, with a 1.29 goals-against average.
In the first opportunity to prove himself after the GM said that the team has "higher expectations" for Swayman and Linus Ullmark, Swayman earned his first shutout of the year, stopping 42 shots in Nashville last Thursday.
Ullmark, meanwhile, has made just one appearance since Sweeney's remarks. On Nov. 30, the day that Sweeney spoke, Ullmark allowed two goals on just 16 shots faced in a 2-1 home loss to Detroit.
On the season overall, Swayman now has a .922 save percentage and 2.15 GAA, while Ullmark has a .911 save percentage and 2.68 GAA. Swayman's gap over Ullmark in even-strength save percentage is even greater, with Swayman at .927 and Ullmark at .914. Swayman's .913 save percentage on the power play is only one point lower than Ullmark's even-strength save percentage.
The Bruins signed Ullmark because the organization clearly had some hesitancy to lean on Swayman, despite his outstanding 10-game debut last season (7-3-0, .945 save percentage, 1.50 GAA, 2 shutouts). As a result, they committed four years and $20 million to Ullmark, giving the former Buffalo goaltender a full no-movement clause for the first two years of that deal.
That means that if/when the team signs Rask, Swayman will have to be the odd man out -- barring injury for Ullmark. That's not particularly fair for Swayman, but more importantly, sending him to the AHL doesn't seem to be the best move for the team.
Swayman's clearly been the better goalie thus far, and he's been a lot better than "OK" since Sweeney offered a public vote of semi-confidence in his current tandem.
How the situation plays out in the coming weeks remains difficult to figure exactly. And Swayman has done his part to make sure that whatever the decision ends up being, it will not be easy for the Bruins to make.
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