Lohrei’s emergence as reliable playoff defenseman is huge for Bruins

Lohrei’s emergence as reliable playoff defenseman is huge for Bruins originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Bruins Rookie Spotlight: Mason Lohrei - The Hockey Writers - Bruins Prospects - NHL News, Analysis & More

The most encouraging development for the Boston Bruins in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs so far is the stellar performance of Jeremy Swayman, who very much looks like a franchise goaltender.

No. 2 on the list of positives is Mason Lohrei’s emergence as a reliable defenseman on the sport’s biggest stage.

The rookie blueliner made his playoff debut in Game 3 of the first round versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a shaky first game for Lorhei as he took two penalties and needed a little while to adjust to the increased physicality and intensity of the postseason.

Not only did Lohrei quickly bounce back in Game 4 of that series, he has steadily improved with each matchup he’s played since. His best performance of the playoffs came Monday night in Game 1 of the Bruins’ second-round series versus the Florida Panthers at Amerant Bank Arena. The Bruins cruised to a 5-1 victory, and Lohrei played a leading role in the result.

Lohrei gave the Bruins their first lead since Game 4 of the Leafs series when he fired a perfect shot over the right shoulder of Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky at 16:17 of the second period. He mostly played as a forward until he switched to defenseman at age 16, and it showed on this goal. You don’t see too many defensemen with that kind of shot.

David Pastrnak was open at the top of the crease on this play, and you wouldn’t have been able to fault Lohrei if he passed in that situation. It’s Pastrnak, after all — one of the league’s elite offensive players. But Lohrei had the intelligence to realize that Bobrovsky had to account for Pastrnak’s presence in that area, which gave the young defenseman an opening to pick his spot up high.

Panthers suffer frustrating 4-3 loss to Bruins - Litter Box Cats

“(Parker Wotherspoon) made a great play at the blue line and got the puck down to me,” Lohrei told reporters after the game, via the NESN broadcast. “I had some space, got my head up, Pastrnak was on the back door. I think that kinda made the goalie go down a little, so I took that space up top.”

Lohrei also was involved in the buildup to the Bruins’ fourth goal scored by rookie forward Justin Brazeau. He was able to get the puck out of the defensive zone and up ice despite the Panthers’ forecheck. Brazeau eventually got the puck, skated into the attacking zone with speed and beat Bobrovsky with a pretty move to increase Boston’s lead to three goals.

Lohrei finished with one goal, one assist, two shots (four attempts), two shot blocks and four hits in 16:05 of ice time. He became the first rookie defenseman to tally a game-winning goal in the playoffs since Colorado Avalanche star Cale Makar in 2020. Lohrei also is the fourth rookie d-man in Bruins playoff history to score a game-winning goal, joining Mike Milbury (1977), Bruce Shoebottom (1988) and Connor Clifton (2019).

The Bruins selected Lohrei in the second round of the 2020 NHL Draft. He made the Bruins’ roster with an impressive training camp in the fall, and he ended up playing in 41 games for Boston during the regular season (21 for the AHL’s Providence Bruins).

Beecher, Lohrei Score Their Firsts In The First vs Stars

The fact that Lohrei is able to make such a strong impact in the playoffs so early in his career is a massive boost to the Bruins’ blue line.

His puck-handling, smooth skating, hockey IQ and overall offensive talent — both as a scorer and playmaker — make him a valuable part of this group. He’s been one of the Bruins’ most dangerous players with the puck since he entered the lineup in Toronto. There’s still plenty of room for growth in his game defensively, but he’s not a huge liability in that area, and he keeps learning how to use his size (6-foot-5, 211 pounds) to his advantage at that end of the ice.

There are more experienced options on the blue line available to the Bruins. Matt Grzelcyk and Kevin Shattenkirk were healthy scratches for Game 1. Those two veterans have played in 157 career playoff games combined. But given how well Lohrei is playing right now, it’s hard to see many scenarios where he would come out of the lineup.

Not many rookies are capable of being thrown into the playoffs and consistently perform better each game. Lohrei has an incredibly bright future. He has the potential to be a top-four defenseman at the NHL level for a long time. But the Bruins don’t have to wait for the finished product. Lohrei is making a tremendous impact right now.

“He’s got so much confidence and so much skill,” Brazeau said postgame when asked about Lohrei, via the NESN broadcast. “He thinks every night he belongs, and he wants that opportunity to be in the big moments. He’s a great player and he’s a great kid, so I’m happy for him.”

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