MONTREAL — Matt Fraser was standing in the hallway, shoeless, skateless, wearing the Bruins’ hero jacket, and still sweating from overtime. He said he’d had lunch at Chipotle in Providence Wednesday before he got the call to the Stanley Cup playoffs. He said he’d topped off lunch with some frozen yogurt. He thought back to his youth hockey days “playing in outdoor rinks in Canada.’’ He said he had to remember to call his parents. He said, “I’m still shaking with excitement.’’
The Bruins beat the Canadiens, 1-0, in overtime on a goal by Fraser off a scramble in front of the net 79 seconds into the fourth period of Game 4 Thursday. This spectacular series is now guaranteed to go at least six games and Fraser has secured a place in Boston sports lore.
How often does something like this happen? Who knows anything about this kid? How does an epic series produce a Game 4 hero who was still in the minors a day before his magic moment?
If Norman Rockwell had dabbled in hockey, he’d have created Matt Fraser.
Fraser comes to the Bruins from central casting, which is to say he was born in Red Deer, Alberta, and prior to playing for Boston, he played for the Red Deer Rebels, the Kootenay Ice, the Peoria Rivermen, the Texas Stars, the Dallas Stars, and the Providence Bruins. He came to the Bruins in the Tyler Seguin trade and wiseguys would hold that Fraser has now delivered more than Seguin ever did. The Bruins called up Fraser for 14 games in December but he was back in Providence when the Bruins and Canadiens waged their epic battles in Games 1, 2, and 3.
Thursday, Fraser was the hero. Standing before a gaggle of cameras and microphones at the Bell Centre, he said, “There’s more people in this media scrum than fans in Providence. This is such a great atmosphere here.’’
Indeed. This is a playoff rivalry that goes back to the first days of the Hoover Administration, a time when the big story coming out of Russia was the exile of Leon Trotsky. In 34 matchups since 1929, the Hub vs. the Habs has seen 18 straight Canadiens wins (1946-87), Maurice “Rocket” Richard knocked unconscious in Game 7 at the Forum (1952), young Ken Dryden stoning a Bruins Dream Team (1971), and the infamous “too many men on the ice” penalty that ultimately bounced the Bruins in 1979.
And now we have Matt Fraser scoring the only goal in a 1-0 overtime “must win” for the Bruins . . . in his very first playoff hockey game.
The game-winner came quickly, as they usually do in playoff overtimes. Bruins center Carl Soderberg had a backhand deflected by Lars Eller and the puck wobbled in front of the left post. Fraser tapped in a backhand to send the Bruins home with the series squared.
“It was bouncing around,’’ said Fraser. “I might have gotten lucky. It was bobbling around and you just swipe at it. The puck wound up in the back of the net.’’
“I liked his game,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Not because he scored, but his whole game . . . The general manager probably deserves credit on this one.’’
“I thought he was going to get a goal earlier because he was in the slot and had a chance there,’’ said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. “He’d had a good series for Providence in the playoffs. He’s got a quick release. He knows how to score.’’
Fraser said he’d only played in the Bell Centre twice before Thursday, both exhibition games.
“I hardly slept today,’’ Fraser added. “I’m not sure I’ll sleep tonight . . . I don’t even want to begin to try to explain it because that’s something I wish every kid could feel.’’
And thus the Bruins assured themselves one more opportunity to hear Ginette (don’t call me Janet) Reno belt out the anthem. They are guaranteed another chance to see the Bell Centre’s spectacular pregame presentation, which features a video montage set to Bastille’s “Pompeii,” historic Habs footage projected on the ice surface, and a little kid on skates lighting the sheet on virtual fire before they drop the first puck.
Every night in this place feels like the Marseillaise scene in “Casablanca.’’ Lots of pride, flag waving, and defiance.
“I’ve played for the Stanley Cup thousands of times on my buddies’ outdoor rinks,’’ Fraser told NBC’s Pierre McGuire. “But to do it in a place like this is amazing.’’
And this is one amazing series.
See you Saturday night at the Garden.