Bruins

Goalies Dan Vladar and Jeremy Swayman provide promise for the Bruins

"It's the most important position in hockey."

Jeremy Swayman hugs Patrice Bergeron after Swayman's first win. AP

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COMMENTARY

The Boston Bruins embarked on a 10-1-2 start to the season. At that point, they didn’t imagine anyone other than Tuukka Rask or Jaroslav Halak manning the nets even in a unique shortened season.

But injuries and positive COVID-19 diagnosis slowly piled up, especially on defense. Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller and Jeremy Lauzon missed significant time nursing their respective ailments.

Eventually, Rask caught the injury bug in the March 7 loss to the Devils. Rask returned to the lineup on March 25 only to exit again during the first period of a 4-3 overtime loss to the Islanders. This prompted Dan Vladar to the backup role behind Halak.

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Vladar wasn’t thrown to the proverbial fire as he was in his first career appearance in relief of Halak during Game 3 of Boston’s second-round series with the Lightning in late August. But he hardly entered an ideal scenario in his first career start against the Penguins on March 16.

It didn’t matter. Vladar backstopped the injury-plagued Bruins to a much-needed win over the Penguins. The young Czech provided the Bruins a chance to win every time he stepped on the ice in his first four starts.

“Obviously it matters for a goalie — no matter which league you play in — if you play a lot,” Vladar said following Boston’s 3-2 overtime loss to Philly on Monday. “I really appreciate that the coaches have given me a chance, and obviously that helps my game too because I feel more comfortable every minute that goes on.”

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The Bruins put their trust in Vladar to step up in a time of turmoil. The Prague product already has a few highlight-reel moments to his credit, including a diving stick stop on Colton Sceviour in his first career start.

Vladar provided some rare stability during a see-saw season. But the Bruins needed another young netminder to enter a dire situation after Halak’s recent positive COVID test.

With Halak out, Bruce Cassidy tapped Jeremy Swayman to make his first career start in the second half of the pivotal back-to-back with the Flyers Tuesday night. Even with a returning Miller, the Bruins threw in a young netminder under less than ideal circumstances worsened by Charlie McAvoy’s late scratch.

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The Flyers peppered the former University of Maine star with 42 shots, with 25 coming during a chaotic middle stanza. A calm, cool and collected Swayman tracked the puck well in his busy night.

The Bruins eventually made Swayman’s dream come true moment worthwhile during another needed victory in Philadelphia.

“He deserved much better support than we gave him, and he eventually got in the third,” Cassidy said of Swayman’s debut. “I’m happy for him. He got his first NHL win. He certainly earned it. Important game for us…so good for Sway.”

“First off, what an incredible experience. To get a win here in Philly means everything…” a thankful Swayman added after becoming the sixth youngest goalie in NHL history to win his first career start. “My mentality throughout the game was, ‘Don’t get too high and don’t get too low.’ I learned that from [goalie coach] Alfie Michaud up in Maine, and that’s going to stick with me for a long time.”

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Swayman and Vladar have five combined starts between them. The young duo provided the Bruins with three wins in that stretch.

Cassidy couldn’t have asked for anything more from the promising goaltenders. With Halak remaining in COVID protocol and Rask still nursing his injury, the young duo of Swayman and Vladar will likely remain intact in the immediate term. As the trade deadline looms, Sweeney hopes to provide defensive help and a secondary scoring upgrade to alleviate the pressure.

Swayman and Vladar have several chapters remaining in their NHL career. They’ll surely encounter the off night or two along the way. Their stellar efforts under pressure provided a rare bright spot in the immediate term and a sunny future ahead.

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“It’s great to see,” Bergeron said after surpassing the 900-point mark on Tuesday. “I think it’s needless to say that it’s the most important position in hockey, and we’ve been fortunate here in my time here with some amazing goalies. It seems the future here is bright [with Vladar and Swayman], so it’s always a great sign.”

Bergeron never played the position professionally. But he would know a thing or two about great goaltending after watching dazzling performances from Rask and Thomas in the last decade. His aforementioned endorsement proves the Bruins will remain in good hands between the pipes.

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