Andrew Peeke or Kevin Shattenkirk? Bruins’ battles for playoff shifts

BOSTON — For the Boston Bruins, wins are secondary in the final month of the regular season. Determining who will be in the lineup for Game 1 of the playoffs is more important.

Saturday’s 6-5 win over the Philadelphia Flyers was a critical test for three of the players under evaluation for the final spots: Andrew Peeke, Johnny Beecher and Parker Wotherspoon. All three were in uniform. Kevin Shattenkirk, Jakub Lauko and Mason Lohrei were not.

Here’s a look at the three battles, the participants’ strengths and shortcomings and which players have the inside track for Game 1 assignments:

Peeke vs. Shattenkirk, No. 3 right-side defenseman

Saturday was Peeke’s second game as a Bruin since arriving from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline. Peeke played 19:31, third-most among team defensemen after Hampus Lindholm (24:17) and Charlie McAvoy (22:34).

Peeke drew a second-period hooking penalty on Tyson Foerster by getting back to a loose puck first. He played with Wotherspoon on the third pairing.

Peeke, a regular healthy scratch in Columbus, will have every opportunity to play himself into a regular role with his new team. The 25-year-old needs lots of reps to familiarize himself to coach Jim Montgomery’s defensive system. It will help Peeke that he played zone defense with the Blue Jackets as well.

“Coming here so quickly, you’ve got to learn a couple things,” Peeke said. “But everyone’s welcoming. Once you get your footing steady, each day you learn something new. You just keep going. It’s kind of nice to get thrown into the fire a little bit and you don’t have to think too much.”

Peeke assisted on Beecher’s third-period goal. The right-shot defender scooted down the wall and hit Beecher with a slot-line pass.

“You’ve got to find your pockets. Find your holes,” Peeke said. “Lot of skilled players on this team and skilled defensemen that can jump up in the rush. If the lane’s there, you just find it and utilize it.”

Peeke played 2:54 on the penalty kill, second only to Lindholm (3:27). Shattenkirk is averaging only seven seconds of short-handed ice time per game. 

The Bruins like how Peeke could be the second-wave killer on the right side behind Brandon Carlo. This way, Peeke could ease some of McAvoy’s penalty-killing workload and optimize No. 73 for offense.

Peeke is not as offensive-minded as Shattenkirk. The latter has been seeing point time on the No. 2 power-play unit. But the Bruins have other options, including Lindholm and Matt Grzelcyk.

Advantage: Peeke.

Beecher vs. Lauko, No. 4 left wing

Beecher appeared in his second straight game following his March 13 recall from Providence. Felix Sandstrom robbed Beecher on a point-blank one-timer in the first period. But Beecher’s third-period goal gave the Bruins a 4-2 lead.

“Wish I had that one in the first with the one-timer,” said Beecher. “Would have liked to have seen that one go in as well. But beggars can’t be choosers. Just happy to get on the board and try to help the team win any way I can.”

Beecher played with Jesper Boqvist and Justin Brazeau on the fourth line. Beecher played 14:59, including 2:53 on the penalty kill, most of any team forward. The rookie won five of eight faceoffs. 

At 18:26 of the third, with the Bruins hanging on to a 6-5 lead and Sandstrom pulled for a sixth attacker, Montgomery used Beecher as one of his three forwards next to Brad Marchand and Charlie Coyle for a defensive-zone faceoff. Beecher won the draw. 

Beecher made the team out of training camp. But he was assigned to Providence on Jan. 20, partly because his details had slipped. He scored four goals and four assists in 17 AHL games prior to his recall.

“The NHL is a whole different animal,” said Beecher. “You’re playing all throughout the week. Limited practices. It’s all about growing up, learning how to take care of your body a little better and coming to the rink every day prepared. I think that’s where I kind of started to slip up a little bit. Ended up getting sent down, unfortunately. But I’ve been working on that ever since.”

Lauko brings more feistiness and snarl than Beecher. Lauko made three appearances in the first round last year against the Florida Panthers.

But Beecher’s ability to take faceoffs, kill penalties and play center could be a difference-making characteristic in the playoffs.

Advantage: Beecher.

Wotherspoon vs. Lohrei, No. 3 left-side defenseman

Wotherspoon played 16:34, least of any team defenseman. He played 1:17 on the penalty kill as Lindholm’s relief man on the left side.

Lohrei has more offensive skill than Wotherspoon. The 23-year-old may be the most skilled defenseman on the team when it comes to executing puck plays in the offensive zone. But Lohrei has room to grow in the defensive zone. Asking the rookie to take regular shifts in the playoffs would be a big ask.

Like Lohrei, Wotherspoon has never made an NHL playoff appearance. But the 26-year-old plays a simple defense-first game. He plays with more bite than Lohrei. Snarl is always a nice commodity for teams to have in the playoffs.

Advantage: Wotherspoon.

(Photo of Ryan Poehling and Andrew Peeke: Bob DeChiara / USA Today)

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