“Linus right now has been more consistent than Jeremy of late,” said the coach Bruce Cassidy following the morning workout at Amalie Arena. “This is Jeremy’s first. . . little bit of a blip here, and we’re going to allow him to play through it, and hopefully he finds it again and we go right down to the wire in that regard. ”
Anticipating the follow-up question, Cassidy added, “I guess if you are thinking ahead to the playoffs, asking who would be the guy, we are undecided right now. It could be both; we’re not sure yet. “
Ullmark is entered the night in the thick of a solid run (65-0-0), with wins over Chicago, Winnipeg, the Islanders, New Jersey, and Detroit, and Tampa Bay Friday night (2-1 in OT). Of those clubs, only Winnipeg still has a chance of making the playoffs.
Swayman, who appeared to have secured the No. 1 spot with a nine-game win streak that was snapped March 16 at Minnesota, has gone 3-3-0 in his last six starts – allowing 19 goals, with a subpar .883 save percentage. He has had particular trouble handling pucks around his net, a fundamental skill he has been concentrating on improving in recent practice sessions with goalie coach Bob Essensa.
“We’ve talked to Jeremy about it, the need to stick with it, you’ve got to play through some of those touches so you get the confidence to do it,” Cassidy said. “We’re not going to abandon it.
“But if that is affecting the rest of your game, then don’t worry, just [stop] the 100 percenters until you feel more comfortable. He has to continue with it. It’s just too important to breaking out pucks. ”
Ullmark, who has a career-best 23-9-2 mark, has looked significantly more confident of late. He opened the season with a 2-3-0 mark in his first five starts and finally found his game in January, winning eight consecutive starts before slipping again (1-3-0) in early February. By the end of the month, Swayman was in the thick of that nine-game winning streak, his stock rising as a potential candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Now Ullmark’s stock is on the rise. After a solid performance against Tampa Bay, he could be back in net when the road trip wraps up Sunday with a matinee in Washington.
“It’s been great,” said Ullmark, reflecting on the season at large. “I love the boys. I love being around the boys. Boston has been great to us ever since Day 1.
“It’s something special brewing. We got a couple of great acquisitions at the deadline in Lindy [Hampus Lindholm] and Brownie [Josh Brown]and it’s been fun from the start and I hope to keep doing this for a lot more time. ”
By Cassidy’s eye, the uptick in Ullmark’s game has been due, in part, to his improved play on rebounds. He recovers better from rebounds than back in October and November and is quicker to gain control of the puck.
“At the start of the year, there had been a lot of scrambling,” Cassidy said. “Now, he’s a big guy, so it happens, but not nearly as much now.
“He is cleaner, getting pucks around the net out of harm’s way. Some of the havoc we saw at the start of the year seems to have dissipated now. ”
“I’ve always been confident in myself,” said Ullmark. “You’ve got to have that when you play at this level, and days are going to come when it just doesn’t go your way – the bounces don’t go your way – and as of late they have.
“We’ve been playing very well of late since New Year’s. Confidence comes into the group and you keep building off of it, and then it goes on autopilot. Every day, the same stuff, and you stick with it – don’t try to fix what’s not broken. ”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.