By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The final score on Thursday night read “Boston 5, Buffalo 1.” It wasn’t a particularly close contest, and perhaps the Bruins were going to win that game even if their starting goaltender was a shooter tutor.READ MORE: 'It's Our Job': North Attleboro, Foxboro Firefighters Rescue Passenger On Flight To Chicago
Still … it could have gotten a little hairy. Jeremy Swayman made sure that his team didn’t have to deal with that.
The rookie goaltender was once again stellar for Boston, stopping 29 of the 30 shots he faced. He improved his save percentage to a ridiculous .943, bettered his goals-against average to 1.65, and upped his record to 5-1-0 in his first six NHL games.
He also helped make sure that the Sabres didn’t get a chance to make the game even remotely competitive in the third period.
First, after a sloppy puck exchange from Jeremy Lauzon to Sean Kuraly, Tage Thompson walked in on a breakaway against Swayman. The 6-foot-5 centerman snapped off a quick wrister, which Swayman stopped. Thompson then tried to tap home a rebound, but Swayman smothered that opportunity as well.
Minutes later, after a Sam Reinhart shot trickled through his pads, Swayman kept his cool and swept the puck out of the crease to keep the score at 4-1.
And shortly after that, Jeff Skinner deked around Lauzon to generate a high-quality doorstep bid. Swayman once again turned aside the offering, this time casually using the blocker to send the puck to the end boards.
All three of those saves came during an uninterrupted stretch of 6:48 without a whistle in a game the Bruins led 4-1. The Bruins ended that stretch with a goal of their own, stretching their lead to four goals. That opportunity was in large part due to Swayman standing tall on all three Buffalo chances.
Considering that stretch came after a Swayman pad save on a tipped shot led directly to the rush that resulted in Boston’s fourth goal …
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) April 23, 2021
… it was a rather dynamite third period for the 22-year-old.
And it’s been quite a three-week stretch for Swayman, who absolutely can believe he’s playing at this level but is still fully soaking in the experience of living his lifelong dream.
“It’s the best thing in the world,” Swayman said after Thursday’s win. “Every guy on that ice deserves to be there, and it’s a really fun thing to be a part of. It’s a dream come true every day. It’s really fun to wake up and be able to put the spoked B on. So I couldn’t be happier with where I’m at now, and I mean, to be with the Boston Bruins is even better. So I’m so excited to be a part of this team and I’m having fun doing it.”READ MORE: Georgetown School Officials Investigating Allegation Of Racial Slurs Following Fight During Football Game
Head coach Bruce Cassidy was asked to compare Swayman to all of the young goalies who have come through the Bruins system over the past decade-plus. Cassidy noted that Swayman’s technique separates him from some of the younger goalie who never quite progressed to full-time NHL status, and he said his puck-tracking ability even surpasses that of a young Tuukka Rask.
“Composure is definitely a thing for him,” Cassidy said. “I just think he’s a little bit ahead of them, technically. And that’s what I’ve seen out of him. He doesn’t seem to get rattled. Tracks pucks very well — that’s probably the other part, maybe a little ahead of Tuukka back then, where he can fight his way through bodies a little more … I don’t know if competitive works, I think they were all competitive. But has a way to find pucks, establish position. Getting out there and getting to his spot and not getting knocked off it. And so that’s probably a little bit of aggressiveness, a little bit of physical strength, so that’s probably what I’ve seen so far.”
As for the development, Swayman was asked by The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa about a sore subject in the goaltender’s history. Shinzawa asked about the time that he failed to make his junior team in the North American Hockey League, and what that moment did for his career. Like many great athletes throughout history, Swayman openly and honestly stated how that low point has driven him every single day.
“It’s funny you bring that up. I actually remember that more often than not, when I’ve been moving on in my career,” Swayman said. “It was one of those years where I wasn’t going to take no for an answer after I was cut. And that’s something that I’ve promised myself and my family. I said that was the worst feeling ever, I never want to be cut from a team again. So really grateful that I did fail in that circumstance, because it’s really motivated me for the future and is a big reason why I’m here now. And I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Again it’s just a mindset that I’ve kept from then on out, is someone else is working harder than you every day, and making sure that I’m doing what I can to be better and compete with myself to give my team my best.”
The motivation has certainly served him well. He compiled a .927 save percentage and 2.51 GAA in his three seasons for the Maine Black Bears, including a .939 save percentage, 2.07 GAA, and three shutouts in his final season in Orono. He excelled in Providence this year — his first as a pro — with a 1.89 GAA and .933 save percentage. And when the Bruins temporarily lost both of their NHL goalies, Swayman quickly surged past Dan Vladar on the organizational depth chart.
Still, Swayman knows better than to relax, or to think his job will be guaranteed to him tomorrow.
“I had a coach tell me, ‘Never get comfortable.’ And that was in Colorado, Greg Vanover, he told me never to get comfortable. So that’s a mindset that I’ve had ever since that year at Colorado. I’m never going to feel settled,” Swayman said. “I’m going to work my butt off every day to make sure that I’m getting better, I’m earning my spot, and I’m doing whatever I can to help the team win. So to answer your question, I’m not comfortable.”
Comfortable, but not comfortable. That’s been the Swayman experience thus far for Boston.
Jeremy Swayman was clearly very nervous to talk to the media last night. Kid was shaking in his boots. pic.twitter.com/PNvH5ZXTtM
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) April 23, 2021
What it all means in the long term — both Rask and Jaroslav Halak have expiring contracts — is not yet known. What it means in the short term — Halak is close to being physically able to return from his COVID absence — isn’t even known.
What is known is that when thrust into the best hockey league on the planet, Swayman’s been unfazed and unflappable. He’s helped the Bruins to gain 10 standing points in a competitive East Division, stopping 166 of the 176 shots that were sent in his direction.
In the process, he’s gotten a veteran-laden roster to believe in him. You can count his head coach among that group, too.
“Certainly a guy that looks capable every time we’re in there,” Cassidy said, “and a little bit more comfortable each time.”MORE NEWS: Will Kids Have The Same COVID Vaccine Side Effects? Dr. Mallika Marshall Answers Your Questions