Johnny Beecher, the Bruins’ fourth line and a memorable playoff debut

BRIGHTON, Mass. – On April 18, the Boston Bruins reported to Warrior Ice Arena for the first of two practices before Game 1. Johnny Beecher was not there.

The NHL regular season was still running. Beecher was in Providence. James van Riemsdyk practiced as left wing No. 4 alongside Jesper Boqvist and Pat Maroon.

That would change.

Youth over experience

Beecher arrived in the NHL playoffs with a thunderclap. Making his first career postseason shift, Beecher scored the opening goal in the Bruins’ 5-1 Game 1 victory.

That wasn’t always guaranteed.

Before Game 1, the Bruins assessed their options. They could open the playoffs with van Riemsdyk, the former Toronto Maple Leaf, on the fourth line. The 34-year-old finished ninth in the team score with 38 points. He scored five of his eleven goals on the power play. The Bruins entered the playoffs shooting 15-of-93 (16.1 percent) since the All-Star break.

Van Riemsdyk had 71 games of playoff experience, including seven as a Maple Leaf in the 2013 opening round against the Bruins. Beecher didn’t have one.

But Van Riemsdyk apparently ran out of gas. He had not scored a goal since February 17. An illness in March didn’t help. The Bruins couldn’t count on Van Riemsdyk to keep up the pace and physicality in the playoffs.

Those are two goods that Beecher has in abundance – if he applies himself.

It’s not easy for rookies to maintain peak NHL competitiveness. Beecher discovered the consequences of falling short. On January 20, the Bruins assigned him to Providence. He did not return to the NHL until March 13.

“The NHL is a completely different animal,” Beecher said upon his return. ‘You play all week. Limited practices. It’s about growing up and learning how to take better care of your body by coming to the rink prepared every day. I think that’s where I started to slip a bit and ended up being sent down unfortunately. But I’ve been working on it ever since.”

The 6-foot-4, 216-pound Beecher is a handful at speed. He is one of the fastest skaters on the team. He hits opponents with power when he arrives at full speed. Beecher is also a natural center who can play on the left flank.

“Intensity. One-on-one battles,” coach Jim Montgomery said before the series when asked where Beecher had improved since his two-month AHL assignment. “That was an area we felt he needed to address and “It’s an area that has improved dramatically. His confrontations and his penalties are always something that we really appreciated.”

So in theory, Beecher checked a lot of boxes for what the Bruins wanted in a postseason fourth-liner. But they wouldn’t know until Beecher hit the ice.

“It’s a whole new world tonight,” Montgomery said before Game 1. “It’s the playoffs. We’ll see tonight how it goes for everyone. Not just him.”

During his first shift, Beecher made sure his coaches’ trust was rewarded.

Immediate impact

In the first period, a flat-footed Maroon was trapped between Ryan Reaves (6-foot-1, 226 pounds), Joel Edmundson (6-foot-1, 221 pounds) and the TD Garden boards. He shouldn’t have escaped.

But Maroon, who was signed to an outlet pass from Hampus Lindholm, has 234 pounds of puck protection beef and a pair of soft hands. Combining both forces, Maroon hit the puck to a moving Boqvist.

The Bruins were in business.

“That man didn’t get three Cups for nothing,” Beecher said. “He knows how to play the right way. He knows how to manage a game. He was great for me and Boqs, slowing down the game and giving us some advice here and there. He made an incredible play. Without him the goal won’t happen.”

One of the reasons Montgomery chooses Boqvist at center over the wing is his ability to quickly transport pucks through open ice. As soon as Boqvist received Maroon’s feed, the left shot up the middle hit the turbos to set up a two-on-one rush against Timothy Liljegren.

With his speed, Beecher had no trouble keeping up. In fact, he slowed down at the offensive blue line to stay out of the way. Once he and Boqvist reached the offensive zone, Beecher prepared to receive the puck. As soon as Liljegren hit the deck, Boqvist threw a saucer pass over the defender’s stick and onto Beecher’s sword.

“I was just ready for an opportunity,” Beecher said. “He’s such an experienced player that you never know when he’s going to come at you. For a moment I thought he was going to shoot it. But he was able to squeak it through (Liljegren). I tried to get it on the net as best I could .’

It wasn’t just the goal. Beecher won six of 10 faceoffs. He helped the Bruins go 4-for-4 on the penalty kill with 1:58 of short ice time. He was credited with two hits.

“He was really good,” Montgomery said. “I think this is the best game he has ever played as a Bruin.”

(Photo by John Beecher: Brian Fluharty/Getty Images)