A lot has been said (by me) already about the Providence Bruins high-powered offense throughout this season and the playoffs. The top two lines - Bourque-Spooner-Tardif and Caron-Camper-Cunningham - are doing their part to give the P-Bruins the chance to win every night. But the deeper we get into the playoffs, the more important goaltending will become.
As fun as 8-5 games are to watch, that can't realistically be expected to happen every game - not even every series. The Providence Bruins exploded with four goals in the first period in game two against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday night, and they didn't score another goal for the rest of the game. They sat on that 4-1 lead (eventually a 4-2 lead) for the entirety of the game and were less aggressive offensively.
They needed Niklas Svedberg to help them out a lot in that game, and he did. He made 19 saves in the third period of game two, which was the only period of this series so far to have zero goals scored in it by either team. That was the most saves in one period of the playoffs so far through seven games for Svedberg, and it was exactly what he needed.
Svedberg was the AHL's best goaltender in the regular season, and he was definitely robbed of the awards for MVP and best rookie (Tyler Toffoli and Tyler Johnson, YOU ARE FRAUDS!). He won those respective awards within the Providence Bruins team, and deservedly so. It's no secret he has won games for them all season and was the main reason they not only made the playoffs for the first time in several years, but finished first in the AHL with 105 points and 50 wins.
Yet, in his first season in North American hockey, the Swedish goaltender was average at best through the first round of the playoffs against the Hershey Bears. He was pulled in the opening game halfway through the second period after allowing four goals on 23 shots. It was shocking and disappointing, because Svedberg has experience in professional playoff series, and he more importantly has experience winning.
Svedberg won the Swedish Elite League championship last season with Brynäs. He only appeared in 29 regular season games, posting a 2.40 GAA and .915 save percentage, but in 13 playoff games, he carried the team to victory with a 1.70 GAA and .947 save percentage. He was only 22.
A year older and wiser and his first under an NHL contract, Svedberg proved that wasn't just a fluke. He went 37-8-2 this season with the P-Bruins, tying the franchise record for goalie wins in a season. He had a a 2.17 GAA and .925 save percentage. He responds well to pressure, especially the pressure he puts on himself, and thrives on the opportunity to play as often as possible.
The numbers in the table below are impressive as hell. They're pretty basic goaltending numbers and yeah, sometimes it's not necessarily important to put a lot of stock in numbers because they don't necessarily paint the whole picture but I think we can all agree that in this case, Svedberg's numbers this season are completely accurate in reflecting his play.
Coach Bruce Cassidy admits he didn't know what they had with Svedberg when he arrived with the team at the start of the season. He didn't start a game until the third game of the season, after Michael Hutchinson lost the first two to open the season. And although Svedberg has been the unquestionable number one goalie since then, he's had to be reigned back in at times, such as when he would want to play all three games in the weekend schedule. By the time the afternoon Sunday game would roll around, he would be worn out and play poorly.
Through seven games in the playoffs, his numbers aren't so great. It's a really small sample size of course, but there's no way to sugar coat it - he just hasn't been as good as he needs to be. A lot of the games have been flukes in terms of volume of goals scored for both teams, but it's not really an excuse. It's more a matter of if the numbers will even out as he plays more games in the coming days and/or weeks.
The above table computes to a playoff save percentage of .891 and GAA of 3.52, which are all among the worst of playoff goaltenders that have played at least three games/over 200 minutes, but Svedberg is still tops for the most in wins with five so far. And of course, that's the only thing that matters in the playoffs.
He's still a young goalie at 23, and learning his own strengths and weaknesses are par for the course. The increased intensity of the playoffs are usually an adjustment for all players, especially rookies when they make the jump to the professional level. Because Svedberg has played at a professional level in Sweden, I think I assumed he would have an easy, seamless transition from regular season to playoffs. He seemed to be in playoff mode since February. I mean, come on, his numbers are ridiculous. Looking back, I consider his first few months to be a rocky start, but he was still 8-4 through October and November. That's half of his regulation losses occurring in the first six weeks of the season. That's ridiculous to think about.
Our standards for Svedberg are high, but then again, everyone needs to step up in the playoffs, especially the goaltenders. Svedberg got better through the Hershey series, eventually standing up tall enough at the end of game five to help them solidify the victory in round one. And he has been starting to show signs of his "regular" brilliant self in the latter stages of the second game against the Penguins. And this is exactly what the P-Bruins need, because their offense won't always produce, and their penalty killing can't continue to function at a fifty percent success rate.
The biggest reason Svedberg is more crucial now than ever is the situation on the blue line. The Bruins had six d-men and three health scratches ready to go for the playoffs, but it all fell apart pretty quickly. The top six defensemen to start this series were Matt Bartkowski, Kevan Miller, Garnet Exelby, Torey Krug, David Warsofky, and Tommy Cross. The three extra d-men were Zach Trotmam, Ryan Button, and Colby Cohen.
Well, apparently Cohen spontaneously combusted without having played at all, so he was never a possibility. Bartkowski got called up to Boston, and Trotman stepped in for him, leaving Button to be the lone healthy scratch. However, Miller got injured in game one, so Button stepped in for game two, but Trotman got injured. Heading into game three, there is nobody to replace Trotman, unless Miller can suck it up and play through his injury - which is "upper body" but obviously his constantly recurring rib injury that I don't know why it won't heal bu tit just WON'T. Stick some fucking super glue on that shit and let's go. Trotman can't play through a concussion and Cohen sucks so much he gave himself a hernia, so I guess you can't play through that either.
I have no idea what the other options on defense for the P-Bruins would be. Either way, they are running thin on the blue line, and their defense was already questionable at best when it comes to playing actual defense. Krug, for example, is a fantastic offensive defenseman, but he and Exelby are a pretty terrible defensive pairing.
They were able to deal with this in the regular season because of Svedberg. He bails them out. He wins games. He steals games. He is great. He is the greatest, in fact.
They need him to be that great goalie again, and they need it desperately if they are going to win another game in this series, let alone the entire series...let alone a championship. Svedberg should pull through...despite the apparent lack of translation between Swedish Elite winning and AHL winning in the playoffs, I still thoroughly believe Svedberg is capable of doing it. This entire team is ridiculously capable. So far, they've all pretty much made their splash in the professional playoffs. Now it's Svedberg's turn to steal the spotlight again.