Bruins

Plenty of reasons why an Ullmark-Swayman playoff platoon makes no sense

Bruins

Trying to find a real concern about the Boston Bruins requires quite a bit of effort right now.

They just responded to their first back-to-back losses in regulation by winning three consecutive road games by a combined score of 15-2. The B's have a massive lead atop the NHL standings and some of the recent concerns about the team's play -- special teams, slow starts, etc. -- now don't look like genuine issues. 

There's no glaring weakness to crush the Bruins over right now. So, with about a month left before the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin, what are we going to talk about?

Unfortunately, the idea of the Bruins using a goalie platoon in the playoffs has surfaced.

It's a weird debate and an even worse idea.

For starters, goalie platoons usually don't work in the playoffs. They are great in the regular season because the grind of an 82-game schedule wears on goaltenders, which is why fewer of them play 60-plus games compared to 10 years ago. 

But in the playoffs, sticking with one guy -- unless a severe drop in performance or injuries crop up -- is the right way to go. If you look at every Stanley Cup champion this century, just five of them had a goalie who didn't record all 16 of their victories during that playoff run.

Here's a recap of those five. Most of them were related to injuries and not poor performance.

 
  • Carolina Hurricanes rookie Cam Ward started all but two games in the 2005-06 playoffs en route to a Stanley Cup title and Conn Smythe Trophy. He earned 15 of Carolina's 16 wins. 
  • Jean-Sebastian Giguere had to leave the Anaheim Ducks in the 2006-07 playoffs for a non-injury matter. He was the unquestioned starter when available.
  • In 2007-08, the Red Wings started legendary goalie Dominik Hasek in the first two games of Round 1 versus the Nashville Predators. The 43-year-old Hasek won both of them, but he lost the next two matchups with brutal performances. The Red Wings switched to Chris Osgood in Game 5, and he didn't give up the net as Detroit went on to beat the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final. Osgood had already won two Stanley Cup titles for the Red Wings (1996-97 and 1997-98), so he knew what it took to win in the playoffs. 
  • Corey Crawford won 13 games for the 2014-15 champion Chicago Blackhawks. He started 19 of the Blackhawks' 23 games and all of them after Round 1. There wasn't much debate between Crawford and Scott Darling.
  • In 2015-16, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray missed the first two games of Round 1 because of a concussion. He also missed Game 5 in the Eastern Conference Final. He started every other game and won 15 of the 16 games Pittsburgh needed for a championship.
  • The last time we saw a team use a platoon or make a switch to a different goalie in the middle of the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup was the 2016-17 Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury struggled in a second-round series win over the Washington Capitals and then played poorly in the first three games of the Eastern Conference Final versus the Ottawa Senators. He allowed four goals in a Game 3 loss to the Senators and Murray took over. Murray played the rest of the way and led the Penguins to their second consecutive title.
  • Darcy Kuemper missed six of the Colorado Avalanche's wins last season because he suffered an injury in Round 1. Kuemper did play all six games in the Cup Final when the Avs defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Another reason why a playoff goalie platoon is a bad idea is because Bruins starter Linus Ullmark is on track to win the Vezina Trophy. Why on Earth would the Bruins not give the league's best goalie this season the start in Game 1 of the playoffs and a long leash for the entire postseason run? There's no precedent for it, and that's because if you have a Vezina-level goalie who has dominated opponents all season, you ride him as long as you can.

Ullmark leads his goaltending peers in pretty much every significant statistical category. 

One of the arguments for a goalie platoon is that backup Jeremy Swayman has been awesome the last month or so. It's true, he's been great of late, but his stats aren't leaps and bounds better than Ullmark since Feb. 1. Ullmark has five victories in that span against teams currently in a playoff spot. Swayman had three such wins over that span.

Natural Stat Trick

Sure, Swayman played better than Ullmark in last season's first-round series versus the Hurricanes. But Swayman's stats were good, not great, and he only won at home. He was unable to carry the Bruins to victory in Game 5 and Game 7 in Carolina. So it's not like Swayman has a postseason resume that is much better than Ullmark's. Neither of them have a ton of postseason experience.

Ullmark has earned the right to start Game 1 of the playoffs and keep his job unless he suffers an injury or his performance suffers a massive drop. Neither scenario is likely. Even if he loses back-to-back games at some point, it would be foolish to turn to Swayman unless the Swedish netminder was the undisputed No. 1 reason for those defeats. Even then in that scenario, it would be a tough decision.

This isn't a tough decision for the Bruins. The stats, recent playoff history and common sense all point toward Ullmark being the guy in net.