One of these players is patently not like the other.
In red-white-and-blue, Max Pacioretty, former first-round draft pick, scorer of 39 regular-season goals, the fifth-highest total in the NHL this year.
In black-and-gold, Matt Fraser, major-junior free agent, minor league call-up, who has precisely one playoff game on his pro hockey resume – and three NHL goals.
Naturally, everyone will have predicted the latter would notch an overtime winner before the former; Fraser scored the overtime winner in game three of the second-round series between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.
The playoffs are about trying neutralize the opposition’s most dangerous elements, which is why unsung heroes often step to the fore; Boston isn’t going to bother matching up Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton, the team’s top defence pair, with the Habs’ Dale Weise (who also has a game-winner in this series).
But at some point, quality must shine through, or you will lose.
If the Habs are to triumph in game four (7:00 p.m., CBC, RDS) and get their snouts ahead in a series knotted at 2-2, it will help if their top line can regain it’s striking-fear-in-defencemen mojo.
The 25-year-old Pacioretty has just one goal in the playoffs, and though he has comparatively little experience playing in the post-season (he was injured during the 2010 conference final run), has conspicuously been a non-factor.
“There’s nothing to say, I’ve got to find a way to score goals,” said the U.S. Olympian, who admitted he’s finding it harder and harder to relax.
He should expect to see a steady diet of Chara – who infamously ran him into a Bell Centre stanchion in 2011, breaking his neck – and Hamilton.
“In the first four games, I’ll give (Chara) the edge . . . but it’s about the future now,” said the Connecticut native, who said he has three games to prove himself. “It’s gut-check time.”
Pacioretty freely admits that he and linemates David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher “haven’t risen to that challenge yet.”
But even on home ice, where coach Michel Therrien was more easily able to get him away from Chara, Pacioretty has been in jaded form.
As the Habs wait for their top goal-scoring threat to warm-up – like most prolific scorers, Pacioretty is a profoundly streaky player – Therrien says his attitude is encouraging.
“That’s leadership to me. Max is a guy that cares about his team a lot, he cares about his teammates. I expect a solid game from him,” he said.
Pacioretty’s funk isn’t unique.
Weise, it should be noted, has more goals in the post-season than Boston centre David Krejci, who is traditionally the Bruins’ top playoff point-getter.
If some of the biggest-name players are feeling the strain, Fraser is still in dreamland.
The 23-year-old spent Friday camped in his hotel room returning 300 or so text messages and emails of congratulations.
They were from friends, family, former teammates, coaches, and elementary school classmates; he also heard from his high school grad date.
“I haven’t heard from her, well, since grad. So obviously I did something wrong,” he joked.
Fraser said he returned every call and every message because “I’m a big believer that if someone is going to take the time of day to congratulate me and text me, then the least I can do is send a message back and let them know that I appreciate it.”
The Bruins called Fraser up from the minors for Thursday’s game, and he’ll suit up for game four.
As Boston coach Claude Julien noted after his overtime heroics, the strapping Red Deer, Alta., native had previously played on the Bruins’ third line – with Swedes Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson – in the regular season, and has an established comfort level.
It’s true that Fraser’s circumstance isn’t as pressure-packed as Pacioretty’s, but the Habs’ winger could do worse than to play with as much freedom as the young Boston forward.