BOSTON -- With Andrew Ference officially out of Boston’s lineup for Game 2 on a one game suspension for an illegal check to Mikhail Grabovski’s head, the Bruins now have some difficult choices to make among their defensemen corps.
Claude Julien wasn’t ready to break down how they planned to replace Ference’s presence on Thursday morning before the suspension became official.
But it’s pretty clear the Bruins are going to miss the feisty defense and discerning leadership that Ference brings to the table while playing close to 20 minutes per night as Johnny Boychuk’s defensive partner.
The 34-year-old was playing some of his best hockey of the season before Brendan Shanahan’s decision came down late on Thursday afternoon.
“One of those guys that’s got a lot of experience is Ference. He’s been around a long time,” said Claude Julien. “He’s a smart defenseman.”
Dougie Hamilton would be the natural first choice to step into the lineup, but that would involve breaking up Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg as their top defensemen unit, and likely pairing the puck-moving Hamilton together with either Chara or Seidenberg.
If the Bruins are simply looking to plug somebody into Ference’s spot then maybe a call for 24-year-old Matt Bartkowski might make more sense: the Bruins could simply plug the lefty shooting young defensemen into the second pairing with Boychuk skating on the right side.
He’s played a couple of playoff games with the Providence Bruins, and has an assist and a plus-1 rating along with seven shots on net in just two AHL games after being sent down to get into some game action.
There’s also always spare defenseman Aaron Johnson, who could step in to play one game in place of Ference. But Johnson hasn’t been in the lineup since a March 30 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers that was one of Boston’s low points of the regular season. It would be a risk to drop a player into the playoffs with that kind of rust lingering in his game. Even if it comes down to choosing between Hamilton or Bartkowski, that choice will give the Bruins options with some offensive upside in both instances.
“We have lots of depth,” said Julien. “We have a lot of guys back there, and we feel confident in them. Peter [Chiarelli] has done a good job of finding some guys at the end of the year, so we have some extra bodies around if they’re needed.
“We had a lot of little injuries in a 48-game schedule, and that meant a lot of guys were in and out of the lineup. That meant we got a lot of looks at these guys to see what they could bring to the team.”
None of the defensemen replacements for Andrew Ference are going to be able to replicate the attitude, toughness or veteran experience that No. 21 brings to the table during the Cup playoffs. It’s a good thing for the Black and Gold that it will only be one game for Ference, but that’s the price of doing business for the Bruins when the hard-edged team is constantly pushing things to the physical edge.