HomeSportsBruins playoff lineup projection 1.0: Best lines, combinations for Game 1

Bruins playoff lineup projection 1.0: Best lines, combinations for Game 1

Bruins playoff lineup projection 1.0: Best lines, pairings for Game 1 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins don’t have to worry about competing for a spot in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Not only have they already clinched a spot, the Original Six club also has a chance to win the Presidents for the second consecutive season ‘ Trophy and become number 1 overall.

Winning the Atlantic Division for the third consecutive campaign is also a very realistic scenario.

The real question marks that remain are: 1) Which team will the Bruins play in the first round, and 2) What will the lineup look like for Game 1?

The goalkeeper decision is obviously the biggest debate when it comes to lineups, but there are a few other areas of the lineup where some tough decisions need to be made.

Here is our first lineup projection from the Bruins playoffs.

Come on

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The Marchand-Coyle-DeBrusk trio has combined for 306:39 of 5-on-5 ice time, far more than any other Bruins line this season. Coyle is having the best season of his career with 55 points, including a career-high 23 goals. This is the safest line Montgomery can put on the ice. He can rely on this group to play physically in all three zones, defend well and create attack.

The Zacha-Pasternak duo must be kept together. Pastrnak is having another elite season and should be in the Hart Trophy conversation with 102 points (45 goals, 57 assists). The Heinen-Zacha-Pastrnak trio only played 112:45 together in 5-on-5, but outscored opponents 10-4 during that stretch.

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Heinen is a versatile player who fits on both wings and on multiple lines. The Bruins probably didn’t see him as one of their best options on the left wing of the second line entering the playoffs, but he’s earned that spot as of now.

Geekie and Frederic have played a combined 361 minutes at even strength this season. They have great chemistry and complement each other well. Geekie’s 37 points are nine more than his previous career high. Frederic’s 39 is eight better than the career high he set last season. They play a physical form of hockey, which makes Van Riemsdyk fit in well with this group.

When healthy, JVR can be a real hurdle for opponents in front of the net. The problem with Van Riemsdyk is consistency. He’s far too hot and cold as a goalscorer and hasn’t scored in his last 14 games. Getting him started before the playoffs would be huge for the Bruins.

There are a few fourth-line combinations for Montgomery to consider. Beecher deserves a spot in the lineup because of his faceoff skills and penalty kill. His faceoff winning percentage of 54.7 is just behind Zacha for the team lead. Boqvist’s speed is valuable, and his offense is starting to take shape with 10 points in his last 21 games.

When the Bruins acquired three-time Stanley Cup champion Pat Maroon on trade deadline day, they likely thought he would fill the role Justin Brazeau currently fills. But given how well Brazeau is playing, it will be difficult to remove him from the lineup. He goes to the dirty spots on the ice, wins puck battles and scores big goals. That’s exactly what you need from your fourth line in the postseason.

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Brazeau has scored four goals with one assist in the last six games, and he’s even getting a look on the second power play unit. If Maroon, currently recovering from back surgery in February, is ready for action come playoff time, it should be Boqvist coming out of the lineup and not Beecher or Brazeau.

Defenders

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Grzelcyk and McAvoy have great chemistry having played together throughout their NHL careers and even at Boston University. This duo actually ranks second in goals percentage (65.91) among all combinations with at least 500 minutes played at even strength, per Natural Stat Trick. This combination also has a goal difference of plus 14 at equal strength.

Keeping the Lindholm-Carlo pairing together is also an easy decision. No duo on the blue line has played more minutes (766:02) for the Bruins than this.

The real question mark lies with the third link. Mason Lohrei brings offensive skill and smooth skating to the lineup, but he still has plenty of room for growth defensively and lacks experience (only 40 NHL games). Wotherspoon is more reliable in the defensive zone and has actually been a pretty useful player for Boston this year.

Kevin Shattenkirk has more experience and generates more offense than Andrew Peeke. But based on the matchup, Peeke’s physicality and ability to kill penalties could give him plenty of options for playing time in the postseason.

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Goalkeepers

Beginner: Jeremy Swayman

Backup: Linus Ullmark

Ullmark has defeated Swayman since the All-Star break ended in early February. Not only that, Swayman’s performance was pretty lackluster throughout that stretch. He has conceded three or more goals in four of his last five starts and nine of his last 12.

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Despite his recent dip in performance, Swayman should still be the Game 1 starter from here on out. This could change between now and the end of the regular season, but so far Swayman has been a slightly better goaltender than Ullmark in 2023-24.

The best-case scenario for the Bruins in net is that Swayman leads the team to at least one playoff series win and proves he’s capable of being a true No. 1 goalie for a contender. In that scenario, the Bruins could extend Swayman this offseason and possibly trade Ullmark to free up salary cap space. But what if Swayman struggles in the postseason? Than what? The Bruins need to see how these guys perform in the playoffs before deciding which goaltender to build moving forward.

The Bruins have used a goalie rotation for most of the season. Will it stay that way into the play-offs? We haven’t seen a Stanley Cup champion use a true goalie rotation for an entire playoff run in the 21st century. That doesn’t mean it can’t work, but it would be a bold move by the B’s.

Giving Swayman the first shot in Game 1 still makes the most sense, but if he continues to struggle, Ullmark could get the nod.

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