Bruins’ Jeremy Swayman is in the zone, and Panthers need to get him out of it

FT. LAUDERDALE and SUNRISE, Fla. — Call it whatever you want: zone, flow state, another planet.

Whatever it is, Jeremy Swayman is living in it right now, with an NHL-best .955 save percentage over seven playoff starts, and the Boston Bruins want him to stay there.

Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers, who have seen Sergei Bobrovsky in similar stratospheres at times during his tenure in Florida, know need to get Swayman out of it if they expect to eliminate the Bruins for the second postseason in a row.

“That save in the first minute of the game. That gets jacked in our net, we’re down 1-0,” coach Jim Montgomery said of Anton Lundell’s six-foot rebound follow-up of a Sam Reinhart snapper Monday. “Their crowd’s going wild and we’re on our heels early on. Instead, he makes that save on a tremendous second-effort play that you don’t see very often.

“He’s just in a zone that’s unparalleled in the first seven games of the playoffs. All of a sudden, our bench has gone to another level, right? We’re all excited. It gives you confidence. That’s what he does. He raises the confidence of our team.”

Swayman is thriving under extreme conditions. He carried the emotional spike of the Bruins’ 2-1, Game 7 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs into the 5-1 Game 1 win over the Panthers.

He is expected to make his seventh straight start on Wednesday in Game 2. It would be the longest consecutive starts streak of his career.

“He’s a little bit of a freak of an athlete,” Montgomery said. “We don’t worry too much about him breaking down. But it is the emotion of the playoffs that you weigh, as well.”

One reason Swayman has met the moment is his self-belief. He has always trusted his stuff. His teammates know it.

“It’s a characteristic that some of the best players have is that confidence,” defenseman Charlie McAvoy said. “They know how good they are. And that’s Sway. He carries himself in a humble manner, which is appreciated. But he knows how good he is. And he works really hard at it.”

Swayman’s expected goals allowed in the playoffs is 19.99, according to Natural Stat Trick. He has allowed 10, one of eight goalies in NHL history to give up two or fewer goals in at least seven consecutive starts to open the playoffs.


Swayman saved 2.88 goals above expected in his Game 1 win over the Panthers, turning away 38 shots.

How will the Panthers reply? They don’t think they did enough to make things difficult on the goaltender.

“It’s easy to look for the perfect play,” Reinhart said. “And it’s easier to defend when a team’s looking for that perfect play. I think (we need to create) more chaos. … The more we can create around the net, the more everything else will open up for us.”

Added forward Kevin Stenlund, “If he sees the puck, it’s a lot easier to make the saves.”

Could Bennett return Wednesday?

Sam Bennett’s hard-nosed, playoff-style presence was certainly missed in Game 1, so the question is if we could see him Wednesday night in Game 2.

Bennett, out since he was hit by teammate Brandon Montour’s shot on the left wrist in Game 2 of the Tampa Bay series, skated during Tuesday’s very optional Panthers practice. Coach Paul Maurice said he is getting closer and should return in the next one to three games. Maurice said it’s just a matter of doctors signing off.

“That’s a big person, big personality, a big presence in our lineup, so any chance you can get him back — hopefully sooner than later — that’s obviously positive,” Reinhart said. “He goes to the hard areas … steps up. It’s those heavy games that he thrives in and doesn’t shy away from.”

Lohrei is ‘not afraid’

Mason Lohrei was on the ice for Lundell’s game-opening chance. Some rookie defensemen would have been spooked by a first-shift near-goal against.

Not Lohrei.

One of the 23-year-old’s strengths is being short on memory and long on confidence. Lohrei scored the Game 1 winner by buzzing an audacious bad-angle wrister past Bobrovsky’s right ear.

“The confidence he has for such a young player just coming into the league, it’s awesome,” teammate Morgan Geekie said. “You could see it when he stepped on the ice last night, what he was going to bring to the table. When he’s making those plays, there’s not a lot of guys with the same skill set he has. You see what he brings. His goal is a great example of that, just the skill set he has. He’s not afraid to make plays. So when he’s playing a 200-foot game like that, he’s a great player. He’s definitely going to be important for us down the stretch.”

Lohrei, son of longtime pro coach Dave Lohrei, was a healthy scratch for Games 1 and 2 against the Leafs. He is not coming out again anytime soon.

Ekblad, Forsling look to rebound

One of the alarming things about Monday’s loss from a Florida perspective was just how much top defense pair Gustav Forsling and Aaron Ekblad struggled.

Ekblad turned pucks over throughout the first period, had a Bobrovsky attempted pass hop over his stick before Geekie’s tying goal and was screening Bobrovsky on Brandon Carlo’s back-breaking third goal.

Forsling had pucks on his stick just before the Lohrei and Carlo goals.

“I think the whole team could feel we haven’t played for a week,” said Forsling, who led the league with a plus-56 in the regular season and is second in the NHL with a plus-133 the past four years. “We want to get right back into it and I think next game we’re going to be way more ready.”

What Panthers must improve

One of the fun parts of the playoffs is the highs and lows experienced with every win and loss. The Bruins won Game 1 of last year’s Florida-Boston series but ended up advancing — all the way to the Cup Final.

“Nobody’s gone 16-0 as far, as I know, so everybody’s going to suffer a defeat,” Maurice said. “You’re always going to have a game that you don’t like.”

That’s why as painful as Monday’s loss was, Reinhart said the Panthers just have to put it behind them.

“I think it’s so mentally challenging the postseason,” said Reinhart, who finished second in the NHL with 57 goals. “When you’re going through a series, the ups and downs, you can be up 3-0, lose a game in Tampa and it feels like the world’s ending for a minute.

“(But then) everything settles back down. And then you get through a series and you’re kind of mentally relaxed for a little bit. A game like last night will get you right back into it. And that’s where you want to be. You want to be engaged. You want to be right in the thick of things. So we’ve got a big test (Wednesday) and we’re looking forward to that challenge and learning how to get better.”

Eleven times this season, including once in the playoffs, the Panthers prevented one loss from becoming two. So they have a knack for responding to defeats.

But one area Reinhart says must improve in Florida’s power play. The Bruins haven’t allowed a power-play goal to the Panthers in five meetings this season, a big reason they won all five.

“They’re obviously solid. That’s a strength of theirs,” Reinhart said. “I think be a little bit more assertive, a little bit quicker, work off the net a little bit more. Don’t be looking for the perfect play all the time. I think the more you can create around the net, the more plays will open up for us.”

(Top photo of Jeremy Swayman making a save on Kyle Okposo: Joel Auerbach / Getty Images)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top