It took until overtime, but the Boston Bruins finally managed to pepper the net enough for a puck to break through the brick wall that is Carey Price. The B’s and the Montreal Canadiens traded scoring chance after scoring chance, but Price and Tuukka Rask were both playing like goalies from another planet. This second round series is now tied 2-2, with the teams heading back to TD Garden for Game 5 on Saturday. The Bruins needed this game, and an unlikely hero delivered for them. In a series where historical playoff hero David Krejci has struggled mightily, the Bruins needed to get scoring from non-traditional sources, and once again Peter Chiarelli looks like a genius for trading away a star player at the right time.
Matt Fraser, who was traded to Boston from the Dallas Stars last summer as part of the Tyler Seguin Trade (along with Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, and Joe Morrow) was called up from the AHL affiliate Providence Bruins earlier in the day, to replace Justin Florek on the roster and replace Jordan Caron in the lineup. The 23 year old Red Deer, Alberta native was tasked with playing his first Stanley Cup Playoff game in hostile territory as part of hockey’s most storied rivalry, and if the moment was getting to him, you didn’t know until he started rambling about frozen yogurt to Pierre McGuire after the game (Seriously, the frozen yogurt thing was out of left field. It’s like he was trying to get quoted in Joe Haggerty’s game recap or something). Claude Julien put Fraser on the 3rd line alongside Eriksson and Carl Soderberg, and that line was a force for the entire game.
It was early in overtime when Fraser poked in Price’s rebound of Soderberg’s shot, but the game was tense all the way through. Once again the Bruins got a playoff goal from a guy who didn’t make the team picture, but Fraser is knowing he has a knack for this kind of thing. This spring, he has become the first player to score overtime goals in both the AHL and NHL playoffs in the same year. He was called up from Providence because Boston needed someone who could finish on a very hot, very talented goalie, and he did just that. It was such shrewd “personnel management” that it managed to catch the attention of Bill Belichick on the first day of the NFL Draft.
Besides Matt Fraser fellow third-liners Eriksson and Soderberg, the hero of the game was goalie Tuukka Rask. Up until that point in the series, Tuukka hadn’t played poorly, but he wasn’t stealing games for the Bruins either. Fairly or unfairly, Rask will always be compared to Tim Thomas, and many new Bruins fans see the way Thomas stood on his head and took a Bruins team that was less talented and less deep than this current roster to the Stanley Cup as the benchmark for goaltending in Boston. To some, anything less than what Thomas did is a failure in net. Rask doesn’t make as many highlight reel saves as Thomas, but that’s because he’s a more fundamentally sound goaltender, and does not get caught out of position as much. Last night, Tuukka matched the level that Price had been playing at for Montreal, and the B’s came away with a win in the Bell Centre. They needed this game, and they needed a big boy performance from Tuukka because Price wasn’t letting anything in, and that’s what they got.
Neither team was giving an inch in this game, and that’s been the story of the series through four games. Nothing will be handed to you, so it’s important not to make mistakes. These are two evenly matched teams that hate each other’s guts more than any two teams in the NHL. It’s a best of three series going forward, and both team have proven they can win on hostile ice. It’s far from over, and there’s plenty of stress, frustration, and anguish to be had on both sides of the border in the next week, but I’m sure fans in Boston and Montreal wouldn’t want it any other way.