The Boston Bruins are in a rough patch, and they need one of their most valuable players, No. 1 goalie Linus Ullmark, to lead the turnaround.
The B's returned from their All-Star break and bye week last weekend with a Saturday afternoon game against the Washington Capitals at TD Garden. The Bruins did not lead for a single second of the game and lost 2-1. It was their fourth loss in the last five games -- the first time that's happened to Boston this season. The Bruins have led for just 53:20 over their last five games, and 29:55 of that lead time came in their 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 1.
The Bruins' schedule doesn't get any easier this week.
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They go on the road for a Tuesday night matchup versus the Dallas Stars, who lead the Central Division and Western Conference standings. The road trip continues Thursday night against a motivated Nashville Predators team fighting for a wild card berth in the West. The Bruins close the week with a home game versus the New York Islanders. The Isles acquired star center Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks earlier this month and enter Tuesday one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. In fact, Bruins-Islanders could be a preview of the first round of the playoffs.
What do these three teams have in common? Great goaltending.
And that's why the Bruins need their elite goaltender, Ullmark, to show everyone why he's the Vezina Trophy favorite and help lead his team out of its slump.
Ullmark leads the NHL in wins (26), save percentage (.937), GAA (1.90) and goals saved above expected (29.83). He's also been remarkably consistent with a .927 save percentage or better in each of the first four months of the regular season.
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The Swedish netminder will be under pressure to maintain his elite performance because the Bruins might have a tough time scoring against the goalies they're going to face this week.
Stars goalie Jake Oettinger is arguably No. 2 in the Vezina Trophy race behind Ullmark. Predators goalie Juuse Saros finished third in Vezina Trophy voting last season and is enjoying another strong campaign. Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin has, at times, single handedly kept his team in the playoff race.
Here's where these three netminders rank in key statistics entering Tuesday.
The Bruins offense has not been as potent of late compared to most of the season.
The B's have scored two or fewer goals in three of their last five games. They led the league in goals scored before Jake DeBrusk suffered a fractured fibula in the 2023 Winter Classic win on Jan. 2. DeBrusk has missed the last 15 games, and during that span Boston ranks 11th in goals scored and 16th on the power play with a 16.7 percent success rate. Before DeBrusk's injury, the B's owned the league's sixth-best power play. Luckily for the Bruins, DeBrusk is "probable" to return Thursday versus the Predators.
If the Bruins don't see an uptick in their scoring, Ullmark will have to shoulder the load. He's already proven capable of winning close games and low-scoring affairs.
Ullmark has posted a .945 save percentage and a 1.65 GAA when the score is tied. His numbers are even better when the Bruins are trailing by a goal. In those scenarios, Ullmark has a .959 save percentage and a 1.31 GAA.
The Bruins have scored a ton of goals (191) this season, and only the Oilers and Panthers have found the back of the net more often. They were inevitably going to cool off a little at some point, and we might be seeing one of those stretches right now.
If Ullmark can keep the Bruins from playing too much catch-up hockey over the next couple games, the offense should be able to engineer a turnaround and rediscover the dominant form we saw for much of the campaign.