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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 battling 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’ Trophy for the second consecutive season and be the No. 1 overall seed.

Winning the Atlantic Division for the third straight campaign is a very realistic scenario as well.

The real question marks remaining are 1) which team will the Bruins play in the first round, and 2) what will the lineup look like for Game 1?

The goalie decision is obviously the biggest debate in regards to the lineup, but there are a few other areas of the lineup where some tough decisions will need to be made.

Here’s our first Bruins playoff lineup projection.

Forwards

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The Marchand-Coyle-DeBrusk trio has played 306:39 of 5-on-5 ice time together, 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 trust this group in all three zones to play physical, defend well and create offense.

The Zacha-Pastrnak duo should 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 has played just 112:45 together at 5-on-5, but it has outscored opponents 10-4 during that stretch. Heinen is a versatile player who can fit on either wing and on multiple lines. The Bruins probably didn’t envision him as one of their best options at second-line left wing entering the playoffs, but he’s earned that spot as of now.

Geekie and Frederic have played 361 minutes together at even strength this season. They have great chemistry and compliment each other well. Geekie’s 37 points are nine more than his previous career high. Frederic’s 39 are eight better than the career high he set last season. They play a physical brand of hockey, which makes van Riemsdyk a good fit for this group. When healthy, JVR can be a real nuisance for opponents in front of the net. The issue with van Riemsdyk is consistency. He’s way too hot and cold as a scorer, and he hasn’t scored in his last 14 games. Getting him going before the playoffs would be huge for the Bruins.

There are a couple fourth line combos for Montgomery to consider. Beecher deserves a spot in the lineup due to his faceoff ability and penalty killing. His 54.7 faceoff win percentage is just behind Zacha for the team lead. Boqvist’s speed is valuable, and his offense is starting to come around with 10 points in his last 21 games.

When the Bruins acquired three-time Stanley Cup champ Pat Maroon on trade deadline day they probably envisioned him filling the role Justin Brazeau currently occupies. But given how well Brazeau is playing, it’s going to be hard to remove him from the lineup. He goes to the dirty areas of the ice, wins puck battles and scores greasy goals.

That’s exactly what you need from your fourth line in the postseason. Brazeau has scored four times with one assist in the last six games, and he’s even getting a look on the second power-play unit. If Maroon, who is 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.

Defensemen

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Grzelcyk and McAvoy have stellar chemistry from playing together all through their NHL careers and even at Boston University. This duo actually ranks second in goals-for percentage (65.91) among all pairings with at least 500 even-strength minutes played, per Natural Stat Trick. This pairing also has a plus-14 goal differential at even strength.

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

The real question mark is on the third pairing. Mason Lohrei brings offensive skill and smooth skating to the lineup, but he still has plenty of room for growth defensively and lacks experience (just 40 NHL games). Wotherspoon is more trustworthy 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 penalty killing ability could give him plenty of opportunities for postseason playing time.

Goaltenders

Starter: Jeremy Swayman

Backup: Linus Ullmark

Ullmark has outplayed Swayman since the All-Star break ended in early February. Not only that, Swayman’s performance has been pretty lackluster during that stretch. He has given up 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 still should be the Game 1 starter as of now. This could change between now and the end of the regular season, but to this point, Swayman has been a slightly better goalie 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 on a contender. In that scenario, the Bruins could extend Swayman in the offseason and potentially trade Ullmark to free up salary cap space. But what if Swayman struggles in the postseason? Then what? The Bruins need to see how these guys perform in the playoffs before deciding which goalie to build around going forward.

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

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

Read the full article here

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