(Photo Credit: Steven Senne/Associated Press)

By: Jason Cooke | Follow me on Twitter / X @cookejournalism

Mason Lohrei was nervous headed into his first career Game Seven on Saturday night. The Boston Bruins were set to clash with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the latest chapter of the rivalry, and the B’s were hoping to avoid squandering another first-round 3-1 lead. That’s quite the situation for a rookie to be thrown in.

It was win or go home for Lohrei and the Bruins, as the lights were bright on the biggest stage of his National Hockey League stint thus far. But for the young defenseman, it’s the kind of scene he plays for.

“Obviously, there’s going to be nerves,” Lohrei said before Game Seven. “I think it’s just about using that and using the energy in the building and going out there and keeping my intensity up and playing hard.”

Lohrei did just that. The skillful blueliner totaled 19:20 of ice time in Saturday’s stalemate in what was one of his most complete efforts in a Bruins uniform this season. In fact, Lohrei believes he performs at his best when the nerves begin to creep.

“The more nervous I am, it’s almost like the better I go out there and just perform,” he said.

Not only did Lohrei perform, but he was also one of Boston’s best players on Saturday. He was confident, poised, and not afraid to make a play in a tightly contested game. It’s everything–and more–that Jim Montgomery and the Bruins were hoping for when they asserted him into the lineup in Game Three.

“Games Six and Seven were moments for him, where I hope it’s his coming out party,” Montgomery said after the team’s overtime thriller. “Knowing you belong and how much you mean to the growth of our team should be really comforting.”

Lohrei, who totaled 4-9-13 in 41 NHL games this season, never was timid to back down from revealing his offensive skill on the rush. That was no different in Game Seven, headlined by his end-to-end rush that beat Auston Matthews and a handful of other Toronto defenders on his way to the offensive zone. The sequence didn’t result in anything, but it was a play that characterized his confidence throughout the game.

Lohrei was all over the ice in the second period. Before his skillful rush up the ice late in the frame, he nearly accounted for a handful of Bruins goals, including this shift on a pair of close bids to Brad Marchand. Lohrei began the clip by making a solid effort to pinch and intercept a Toronto breakout before sending a pass to the slot that almost found Marchand for an easy one-timer. He then gathered himself, collecting a feed from Charlie McAvoy prior to a slap-pass attempt that almost found Marchand again on the doorstep. Both plays were simple yet highly effective decisions that could have broken the game open.

Lohrei even almost scored himself, sailing a wrist shot toward the upper right corner on Ilya Samsonov that just clipped his glove on a heads-up play to join the rush. But Lohrei’s most impactful ice time didn’t come in transition on Saturday but rather in the defensive zone.

It wasn’t for a lack of offensive skill that had Lohrei making the trip to and from Providence this season to further develop his game. It was his defensive zone decision-making, including his ability to be strong on pucks in the corners. But all that doubt evaporated after his Game Seven performance, highlighted by this sequence where the 6’5″ defenseman was a force below the dots. In a little less than 20 seconds, Lohrei took Toronto’s two top players—Matthews and John Tavares—off the puck. He was tenacious, using great body position to deter Toronto’s playmakers from breaking free to the cage. This was textbook from Lohrei.

All season, Bruins fans have been waiting for Boston’s promising newcomer to put together a complete effort on the back end. In the biggest game of the season, Lohrei did just that. He rose to the occasion, ensuring the moment wasn’t too big for him to keep the Bruins fighting all night long. If the B’s look to do any damage against the ever-so-powerful Florida Panthers, they’ll look for Lohrei to copy and paste this effort again and again.