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Matt Fraser Grabs Opportunity With David Krejci a Late Scratch

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BOSTON - For the past five games, when the Bruins hit the ice in the Spoked-B in front of an arena of fans, Matt Fraser has been back near the locker room pumping away on the stationary bike.

That's the nature of being the odd man out.

While the team sweats it out on the ice and the crowd's cheers filter down from the stands, you sweat it out on the bike during the first period, slide your suit back on and watch the final two periods of action from the press box.

Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden was trending that way for Fraser, until David Krejci was a late scratch after taking warmups.

"I thought he was going to play," Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said of Krejci. "And he came in and [we] decided that, as a group, that he wasn’t well enough to go."

Cue Fraser getting into his first game in two weeks, having last suited up in 4-0 win in Buffalo in which he played 6:45 as the fourth line right wing.

Fraser slotted in on the left wing Saturday night alongside Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson, scoring two goals, including the game-winner, as the Bruins topped the Sens 4-2.

They jumped above .500 for just the second time this season, and the first time since their season-opening win on October 8. They improved to 7-6-0.

"It's challenging. But at the same time, when they told me I was going, there wasn't much opportunity for me to be nervous and to overthink too much," Fraser said of getting the call right after warmups. "I think when you're put in that situation, you can't overthink too much."

Fraser came out flying, producing one of the Bruins' chances midway through the first period by battling through traffic at the blueline, getting the puck wide to his centerman Soderberg, driving the net and firing off the return pass in tight.

"I thought the effort was really good tonight," Julien said of the team's strong, stingy all-around play, before giving high marks to the veterans and young players alike for handling themselves well. "I mean, Matt Fraser comes in at the last second and scores two goals for us and plays a solid game."

Brad Marchand got the Bruins on the board first, with just 1:06 left in the opening frame, when he ripped one that trickled through Robin Lehner off a clean faceoff win by Patrice Bergeron.

Ottawa responded 38 seconds later off a two-on-one opportunity, when Mark Stone slid a bid past Tuukka Rask's left skate. Dennis Seidenberg had been held up by linesman Brian Murphy along the wall and the Sens sped the other way.

Boston didn't generate much pressure for the first half of the second period, but Fraser converted with 8:46 left to make it 2-1.

Eriksson broke up a clearing attempt by Erik Karlsson and quickly fed Soderberg at the left circle, who fired a bid with Eriksson retreating to the front of the net. The puck jutted out to the right circle, where Fraser snapped in the follow-up chance.

Just 1:28 later, Fraser fired in his second of the night for the eventual game-winner.

Zach Trotman made a quick outlet pass to Soderberg, who chipped the puck up into open space. Fraser flew into the zone from right to left, picked up the puck and quickly ripped it over Lehner's glove.

"You get those chances, a guy like myself, I pride myself on making sure those find the back of the net and I'm definitely happy that I did," said Fraser, whose quick NHL release has been on display in Black and Gold since he first joined the organization for the 2013-14 season after the trade with Dallas.

"We all knew that - I don’t think he surprised anybody with that shot, because we’ve seen it before," said Julien. "You know, he had such a great training camp, but as we all know he struggled out of the gate and we made some adjustments to our lineup."

"But he certainly didn’t miss his opportunity tonight."

Fraser started the season having a chance on the right wing with Milan Lucic and Ryan Spooner. Injuries to Krejci and Gregory Campbell jumbled the Bruins' lineup, and the line of Lucic, Spooner and Fraser never really found its footing.

Three games into the season, Krejci was back in, and Fraser was back in the press box.

"You know, this whole room is filled with great players, so it's hard to find your spot," said Fraser. "I said it previously, I show up to the rink every day to prepare myself to be the hardest working guy, to not just go through the motions, but to get better."

"When you're sitting out as the 13th forward, it's tough. Like, it's - I've had a lot of long conversations with my parents, you just sit back and even sitting in the hotel you talk to yourself."

"But you play with some great players in this room and I was fortunate enough that it worked well tonight."

Playing with Soderberg and Eriksson helped produce two important goals with the go-ahead and game-winner.

"It's fortunate enough that it worked out that way," said Fraser, who had six shot attempts on the night, with two finding the back of the net, in 10:50 of ice time. "But at the same time, it just make me hungrier to be better and to be more of an impact player."

"He was really waiting for that opportunity to get in, and he took advantage of it," said Marchand. "He’s got an unbelievable shot, and if he gets in the position to score he doesn’t miss that many times, so hopefully he continues to play like that."

Krejci's status moving forward is unknown. Following Saturday's game, there were no further details from Julien. During the game, Chris Kelly filled in for Krejci at center with Milan Lucic and Seth Griffith.

Fraser could continue to get an opportunity in a more offensive role, especially with Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Simon Gagne having solidified roles on the Bruins' fourth line.

A night like Saturday from Fraser is what fellow Providence Bruins' teammate David Warsofsky is used to seeing. Fraser put up 20 goals in 44 games with Providence last season. From 2011-13 with the Texas Stars, his 70 goals were the most of any AHL player in that span.

"I think everyone knows Fraz has an unbelievable shot; I think that’s what he’s known for - he scored 30-plus goals in the AHL and it’s obviously translating up here," said Warsofsky. "So when he’s moving his feet and getting his shot off, he’s a really effective player."

For the first time in his career, Fraser has become an NHLer. While it's still early, he's been in Boston full-time since training camp.

The biggest challenge continues to be carving out a full-time role on the ice, and with Boston's lineup, having that patience isn't always easy.

"For me, you show up to the rink every day, no matter if it's a practice or a game, and you prepare yourself to play and you prepare yourself to work hard," said Fraser. "There's a lot of long days at the rink when it's maybe not as easy. But it comes down to, that's what my job is and whether I'm playing or not, I've got to do my part, and you've got to prepare yourself."

"He’s put in a really tough position where he doesn’t know if he’s going to be in the lineup day in and day out," said Warsofsky. "But he keeps himself well conditioned and in practice he’s doing the little things to get himself that opportunity. Obviously, he took advantage of it."

No matter Fraser's role moving forward, he's focused on continuing to be an all-around player.

"I'm very critical of myself - I don't need people to tell me how I'm playing because I know when I can be better," Fraser said. "And when things are going well, it obviously does a lot for my confidence, and not just scoring the two goals - I felt like I had a good game all-around and I think that's more important than the two goals."

As a team, the Bruins were better well-rounded. They gave up odd-numbered situations, but for the most part, limited Ottawa's scoring chance and showcased the stingy aspect of their game that's been lacking during an up-and-down start to the season.

Fraser added to that effort, backchecking hard, being strong on the puck and never "dogging it," according to Marchand.

It's the same attitude the Black and Gold saw when Fraser filled in during the playoffs, scoring his opportunistic overtime goal in Montreal to give the Bruins life heading back home to Boston.

That's the Fraser the Bruins want to see, whenever he gets into the lineup.

"It definitely makes things exciting, for sure. Again, every day when I come to the rink, I prepare to play, I prepare to be the best player on the ice, and I've had to do that my whole career," he said.

"It's gotten me to this point so far, but there's still a lot of work left to do."

The Bruins next host the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night back at TD Garden. If Fraser gets the call again, he'll be ready to suit up.

If not, he'll slip on his suit, and take on his supporting role.

"I was obviously happy with how the game went," said Fraser. "But, you know, the bigger picture is that we're above .500 now and can build off this, and move forward."

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