Gritty Bruins Get New Life vs. Montreal Behind Rookie Hero Matt Fraser

Steve MacfarlaneFeatured ColumnistMay 9, 2014

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One playoff game. One goal. One heck of a way to debut in the NHL playoffs for Boston Bruins rookie Matt Fraser.

It’s a special memory for the 23-year-old from Red Deer, Alberta, who has played all of 27 regular-season games so far.

But its significance as a moment was much bigger than just the heroic finish a kid dreams of. It might have also saved the Bruins’ season.

Headed to overtime against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 4 of the second-round series on Thursday night, the Bruins’ fate effectively hung in the balance.

Go down 3-1, and a comeback is unlikely. Not impossible, but extremely difficult considering the Habs have found a way to match them physically in the series, have at times rattled goalie Tuukka Rask and have had stellar goaltending of their own from Carey Price—who would only have had to steal one of the next three games to put the Canadiens into the Eastern Conference Final.

Instead, it’s tied up at two games apiece and becomes a best-of-three series with the Bruins holding home-ice advantage.

It also buys the Bruins’ offensive stars time to get rolling, because right now they’re stuck in park.

David Krejci, who has led the NHL playoffs in scoring in two of the last three springs, has no goals and three assists through nine games. He has one in this series. Jarome Iginla has one goal against the Habs, and Milan Lucic’s only goal of the series was into an empty net.

“I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey. That’s not to downplay this win. We’ve played hard. It seems to be a process right now,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien told reporters from the podium, as seen on the NHL Network. “You hope that this win here helps that to get better for us.”

A team that is confident with its lineup and situation in a series doesn’t make changes like the Bruins did on Thursday, literally calling Fraser up from the American Hockey League’s Providence Bruins in the morning to give Julien options with his line combinations.

He put Fraser—part of the package from the Dallas Stars for departed star Tyler Seguin—with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson, and the trio was arguably the best line for the Bruins on the night.

That’s why Fraser was out on the ice 1:19 into the overtime period. The Bruins needed a spark the top guns haven’t been giving them.

They got it from Fraser, who tracked the bouncing puck and pounced on it after Price failed to cover it up safely, leading to his dream NHL moment.

He was beside himself while talking with CBC’s Scott Oake after the game. “That ranks right up there. Words can’t even…I don’t even have words for that, it’s so exciting,” Fraser said, his voice shaky and cracking and sounding like he was on the verge of happy tears.

He talked about his parents watching back home in Red Deer. He talked about support, dropped the names of a few friends. Much of what he said was unintelligible because of the emotion. He was practically speechless.

“I can’t…I don’t even have words to explain it,” he stuttered while watching the replay one more time with Oake.

Fraser has three goals and five points in 27 career regular-season games. He played 14 games for the Bruins this year when Chris Kelly was hurt. He suited up for a dozen for the Stars last year after playing in just one in 2011-12.

Only now does it seem like he’s really made an impression.

A game-winning goal in sudden death will do that.

“It’s what you dream of when you’re a little kid, getting called up and getting the OT goal. We’re happy anyone scored but it’s a pretty cool story,” Iginla, a veteran of 17 seasons who got his own first career overtime playoff winner in these playoffs, told the NHL Network.

Fraser’s was a great moment in sports. It’s a future trivia question.

The Bruins also hope it’s simply a sign of things to come for a young core that could make them a Stanley Cup contender for years despite the fact they won it just three years ago and were runners-up last spring.

This year, they still have to get past the Canadiens, and that clearly won’t be an easy task. They kept P.K. Subban off the scoresheet for the first time in this series Thursday and managed to beat Price the only time they needed to, but you know the Habs will come back to TD Garden hungry for revenge.

Fraser bought the team more time, but it’s up to the stars who got the Bruins into the playoffs to extend the stay.


Steve Macfarlane has been covering the NHL for more than a decade, including seven seasons for the Calgary Sun. You can follow him on Twitter @MacfarlaneHKY.