BOSTON (CBS) — When Matt Fraser was called up by the Bruins on Thursday morning, it likely didn’t even register in many people’s minds in Montreal.
By Thursday night, everyone knew the kid’s name. Scoring the overtime game-winner in a playoff game tends to have that effect.
Fraser, still two weeks shy of his 24th birthday and with just 27 games of NHL experience and three goals to his name, stepped into a road playoff game — in Montreal, no less — and played a solid 14 minutes in regulation. He played well enough to earn coach Claude Julien’s trust in the overtime period, and it paid off. Quickly.
Fraser found a loose puck near the right post, and with Carey Price scrambling to find it, Fraser flicked a backhand on net and buried it.
Just like that, the potential of facing a 3-1 series hole immediately evaporated. The series was tied 2-2, and it was the relatively unknown Fraser to score the only goal of the crucial Game 4.
“Words can’t even describe that feeling,” Fraser said minutes after scoring the game-winning goal, his voice still shaking. “I just watched the replay of it. I don’t even want to begin to try to explain that, because it’s something I wish every kid could feel.”
The goal was far from highlight-reel quality, as it came after a big bounce off the end boards after a Johnny Boychuk point shot and then a failed attempt by Carl Soderberg to corral the puck in front of the net. Yet in a game where literally nobody on the ice was able to put the puck into the net, it was pretty enough.
Claude Julien deflected credit to general manager Peter Chiarelli for the Fraser call-up. And considering Chiarelli really put his neck on the line with last summer’s Tyler Seguin trade, the GM no doubt felt relief and satisfaction to see another one of the returning players from that deal come through in this postseason
But the coach certainly knew what he was getting in Fraser, and he wasn’t surprised by the performance.
“I liked his game — not because he scored, but his whole game,” Julien said. “He seemed to be strong on the puck, made some good decisions, wasn’t turning pucks over, and seemed to be skating well. It was nice to see that happen.
“He seems to have a knack to score some goals,” Julien added. “As you can see in this series, we need that.”
Never was that truer than in Game 4. Despite the Bruins’ struggles in Games 1-3, the team still put eight pucks past Price. That was not the case in Game 4, when Price stopped all 32 Boston shots through the first 60 minutes. Tuukka Rask was just as stingy down the other end, turning aside all 33 Montreal shots on net.
The Canadiens needed one goal to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Bruins needed one goal to potentially save their season.
And the person to provide it turned out to be a young man who just 24 hours earlier was twiddling his thumbs, biding his time until his next AHL playoff series started.
“As you can tell in my voice, it’s pretty exciting. I hardly slept today. I’m sure I’ll hardly sleep tonight,” Fraser said.
Long before he became the overtime goal scorer, what was Fraser’s first impressions upon stepping on the ice at the Bell Centre for a playoff game? It was simple: “Wow.”
“I’ve played two exhibition games here before,” Fraser said. “Then, I was really like, ‘OK, here we go.’ There’s more people in this media scrum than there’s fans in Providence. That’s not a diss to Providence. It’s just such a cool atmosphere here and such a cool thing to be a part of.”
Despite the stakes and the at-times chaotic atmosphere, Fraser kept his cool. He took 21 shifts in total, as he worked with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson on the Boston line that spent the most time in the Montreal zone all night long. The trio combined for 11 total shot attempts on the night, with Fraser accounting for four of them himself.
“You don’t want to get too overwhelmed and be so nervous that you don’t know how to play the game anymore,” Fraser said, adding that much more than the immediate circumstances were on his mind. “When I first was traded here, you think of not only how successful the Boston Bruins are, but this whole city and how this whole city comes together. It’s just fun to be a part of it and be a part of something like this.”
For the Bruins, Fraser’s goal won’t automatically lead to great things. For the Bruins to win this series, it’s going to take complete efforts and better performances from the top scoring line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla in what is now a best-of-three series.
But for the time being, Fraser coming through in OT allows a frustrated team — one that has hit double digits in posts and crossbars thus far in the series — to take a deep breath and relax heading into the most important game of the year.
“We really needed this win,” Rask said. “We knew that.”
As for Fraser, his postgame plans didn’t involve any grand celebrations. Rather, he simply had a very important phone call to make.
“I actually turned my phone off today. It was just easier to focus on the game rather than talk to everyone,” Fraser said. “It’s most important that I talk to my parents. I always try to talk to them after the game. Hopefully my dad is impressed with this one.”
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