Does Montgomery regret how he handled goalie situation in Round 1? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Goaltending was arguably the Boston Bruins' biggest strength during their record-breaking 2022-23 NHL regular season, which is why it was so shocking that it became a massive weakness during the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
No. 1 goalie Linus Ullmark led the league with 40 wins, a .938 save percentage and a 1.89 GAA. He is the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as a result. Backup netminder Jeremy Swayman finished top four in both save percentage and GAA, while ranking No. 2 in high-danger save percentage.
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Neither player performed well in Round 1 against the Florida Panthers, though.
Ullmark started the first six games. He went 3-3 with a .886 save percentage and a 3.34 GAA. He didn't look 100 percent healthy in Game 5 and Game 6, and it showed in his lackluster performances. The Bruins turned to Swayman in Game 7, and he allowed four goals on 31 shots in a season-ending 4-3 overtime loss.
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Does Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery regret not going to Swayman earlier in the series?
"In hindsight, absolutely," Montgomery admitted Tuesday during the Bruins' end-of-season press conference. "The mistake I made is -- I try to put our players in the best situation to excel. There is an added mental grind in the playoffs, and it takes a toll, right? That’s what I’ve learned through this grind is the expectations that were put on our team going into the playoffs, there is a price you pay. Everybody does, and I think we are going to learn from this, everybody. The players, especially me, I’m going to learn and I’m going to have to help the players push through, which I didn’t do this year."
Teams typically don't use a goalie tandem in the playoffs, even if that's the structure that gets them through the regular season. Starting Ullmark each game made sense unless his performance dipped significantly and/or an injury was preventing him from playing his best. It was clear during and after Game 5 that Ullmark was not moving as well as he should have been.
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Therefore, Game 6 probably would have been the best time to go to Swayman and give Ullmark a breather. The Bruins had a 3-2 series lead and weren't facing elimination.
Montgomery decided to start Ullmark again in Game 6, and he explained Tuesday what went into that decision.
"Well, first of all, all season long I said that Goalie Bob (Essensa) makes the decision. I make the final decision, right? I’m the one that picks the starter," Montgomery said. "So, it’s not Goalie Bob’s decision, but I really rely on him heavily, and to answer your question specifically, we discussed this as a staff. I will talk in the playoffs especially, even more so with (Don Sweeney) and Cam (Neely) and in the end, we win Games 3 and 4, so you have two days off and you think Game 5 is going to go well and I personally spoke with Linus (Ullmark) and he answered me a real honest question and took ownership of where he was at in Game 5. And what he relayed to me, made me believe that you learn and you grow and he was ready to grow and lead us to a Game 6 win. And that in the end is what made me decide that he was our goaltender for Game 6."
Unfortunately for the Bruins, Game 6 was arguably Ullmark's worst performance of the entire campaign. He allowed a season-high six goals in a 7-5 loss. The Bruins had leads of 4-3 and 5-4 in the third period but Ullmark couldn't shut the door.
By that time, the Bruins pretty much had to go to Swayman for Game 7. That said, it's not ideal for any goalie to enter a do-or-die Game 7 when his last start was two weeks prior.
There are many things the Bruins could have done differently in their shocking first-round loss to the Panthers, and their usage of the goalies has to be at, or near the top of that list.