New Heroes 'Best Part of Playoffs'
BOSTON, MA - Matt Fraser's plan at the outset was to take a few deep breaths, if his emotions ever got the the best of him during his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut.
"I'm not too sure, I guess I'll figure that out at game time," he had smiled.
"But this isn’t the first time someone’s come up, and [Torey] Krug did it last year, [Matt] Bartkowski did it last year and look at them now. They’re impact players in this League and you try not to think of anything like that, but you know, you've got to play your game."
That was before he became the overtime hero in the Bruins' 1-0 win in Montreal on Thursday night that evened the series at two games apiece, and gave him his first NHL playoff goal in his postseason debut.
Once that happened, he let his emotions loose.
"[Johnny] Boychuk was holding me up and he was yelling at me not to fall, because everyone was going to fall next," Fraser laughed, describing the postgame celebration the next day to reporters at TD Garden. "It was - I mean, it was such a blur of the moment kind of thing that it was something I'll never forget."
"I remember Boychuk was kissing my cheek and all I could feel was his whiskers rubbing against my face," he laughed, bringing out laughter from the group gathered around him. "I mean, it's stuff like that, that you remember, and at the same time, it was just exciting to be part of that."
It's stuff like that, that makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs so unpredictable, and so incredible.
It's a storyline handed on a silver platter. The story writes itself.
"Yeah, that's the best part of playoffs," said Torey Krug, who became the unlikely hero in 2013, scoring his first NHL goal in his playoff debut against the New York Rangers in the second round (watch it here).
The Bruins had lost bodies on the back end, and Krug got the call from Providence.
He notched four goals in his first five playoff games, eliciting a new "Kruuuuuuuuug" chant within the walls of TD Garden.
His first goal forced overtime for the Bruins in Game 1 of that series on May 16, 2013, and they went on to win 3-2 off Brad Marchand's winner.
"There's a lot of new heroes and you know, a couple of years ago, I watched Chris Kreider do it with New York, and he was my age coming out of school, and a year later, I got the same opportunity," said Krug. "It was just about embracing that opportunity and running with it."
"And you see Fras deal with it the way he did, and he did a great job for us, so I think that's what playoffs are all about."
"It's teams that have those guys that step that seem to go a long way."
What was that feeling like for Krug last year?
"If he can put it into words, good for him, because I wasn't able to do so last year," smiled the defenseman. "You know, it's great for him, it's an exciting time, and hopefully he'll be able to reflect on that when everything's said and done, but right now, I'm sure he's living in the moment."
"And that's what I tried to do last year, just embrace everything and have a lot of fun with it."
That's exactly what Fraser was trying to do, as he was set to suit up in his second career playoff game - and first at TD Garden - for Game 5, alongside new linemates Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson.
"Scoring a goal like that, and even more so, I think finding a little bit of chemistry with those players, it always gives you confidence moving forward, especially in playoffs," said Fraser.
"When a team has confidence, then it's a dangerous team. You've just got to roll with it."
"I mean, this is a guy, if you give him the opportunity, he can certainly put the puck in the net," said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. "He’s gotten stronger and he’s played a bigger game than he had in the past and those are the improvements you look for in young players."
Trusting the System
Fraser was one of the final cuts from training camp in September. He got the call in early December to fill the void for a month without the services of Chris Kelly, Loui Eriksson, Daniel Paille or Shawn Thornton, before being assigned back to Providence in early January.
Fraser then suffered a leg injury towards the end of the P-Bruins' regular season, and missed nearly two months of action before returning on April 4, and playing 13 regular season and playoff games before getting the call to Boston for Game 4 in Montreal. The Bruins have had a void on the third line with Chris Kelly still sidelined by injury.
"This is where you want to be, and different players take different time in the American League and you take it as a blessing in disguise," Fraser said, prior to making his postseason debut. "And you just work on your game and do what you can to get back here."
"He just had to improve in certain areas and when those guys do that, they see the results and they see what it can do for them," said Julien.
"And he's come in here and, for a guy who said he was nervous for the game, he certainly didn’t look like it. He seemed poised out there and he made some good strong plays throughout the whole game."
Right after the overtime win on Thursday night, Julien made sure to give credit where credit's due.
"The GM probably deserves that credit, he's the one who called him up," Julien had said.
Fraser and Krug had different paths to Boston. A native of Red Deer, Alberta, the 23-year-old Fraser spent five seasons in the Western Hockey League (Red Deer Rebels, Kootenay Ice) before two AHL seasons with the Texas Stars and this year with Providence.
Also 23 years old, Krug, a native of Livonia, Michigan, went the college route, spending three seasons at Michigan State after a season of junior hockey with the Indiana Ice in the United States Hockey League. He spent most of 2012-13 down in Providence, before getting the call during the Rangers' series.
Making an Impact
No matter the path, both made immediate playoff impacts with the big club at opportune times, after AHL seasoning and plenty of NHL regular season recalls.
"You know there's a plan in place and you've got to trust that plan," said Fraser. "You know, going down to Providence you play with some great players there and there's good coaching there and you know, there's lots of input from up here down there."
"You've got to trust yourself and trust that there's a a plan in place, and let your skill take over."
"Well I think they’ve done a great job in Providence, the coaching staff there," said Julien. "The one thing that has been impressive is that the guys who have come up have just fit in seamlessly in to our team."
"So I give a lot of credit to those guys [Bruce Cassidy, Kevin Dean and the coaching staff], they’ve done a wonderful job with the young players and a lot of times those things go unnoticed, but certainly not here. They deserve a lot of credit for the success that we’ve had in sending players to fill in those holes."
It may have only been one Stanley Cup Playoff game, but you get the feeling that Fraser isn't going to go quietly from the spotlight. Krug certainly didn't.
"I mean, I guess it's nice to be mentioned, but I try to pride myself on being a pretty humble guy, and you know, I'm perfectly fine with just kind of not being in the spotlight and kind of going about my business," said Fraser.
"Obviously, it's nice to contribute, I'm not taking that away, but at the same time, there's lots of guys here that played well and lots of guys that have gotten [us] to where we are."
Because that's what it takes in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, everyone contributing - even a Red Deer, Alberta native by the name of Matt Fraser.
Didn't know him before? You do now.
"It really does take everybody along the way at different times," said Gregory Campbell. "For him to come in - that was his first playoff game, so to get a goal like that, it just goes to show you that depth is huge and really, you rely on everybody."