BOSTON – The Bruins might be getting the last of their injured defensemen back this week as alternate captain Andrew Ference skated with B’s strength and conditioning guru John Whitesides on Monday morning. The veteran blueliner has been out of the lineup since suffering a left foot injury against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 5 of the first round back on May 10.
Ference and Wade Redden missed the entire second-round series against the New York Rangers, and Dennis Seidenberg didn’t return until the decisive Game 5 against the Blueshirts on the TD Garden ice. Ference had been seen wearing a protective boot on his left foot up until a couple of days ago, but Claude Julien indicated Monday wasn’t his first day out skating on the ice.
“I think he skated yesterday, or maybe even the day before,” said Julien. “He’s skated a few days here, so he’s obviously on the mend. But [we’re] not ready to say he’s ready to go here.”
The obvious question when Ference is able to return: What will the Bruins coaching staff do to get him back into the playoff lineup?
Matt Bartkowski has been a steady presence in the Bruins lineup, averaging 19:47 of ice time in seven playoff games, and he has helped spark Boston’s transition game with his fresh, young skating legs.
Torey Krug has four goals scored in the five playoff games he’s suited up for, and was a big reason the Bruins power play went 4-for-12 (33 percent success rate) against the Rangers.
It might be difficult to pull either of the rookies out of the lineup to start against the Penguins when the Eastern Conference Finals get going on Thursday or Friday. But, then again, that’s a decision the B’s coaching staff won't have to make until Ference is ready.
Either way it’s a difficult decision that Julien and his coaching staff will grapple with, and it’s pretty clear the Bruins will need Ference’s feistiness, defensive ability, grit, leadership and big-game experience in a showdown with a heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins attack, averaging 4.27 goals per game in the playoffs.
“A lot . . . that’s all I’m going to say,” said Julien, when asked what goes into the postseason lineup decisions when a veteran returns to health. “A lot goes into it. At one point, you make a decision, and that doesn't mean that it’s an easy one . . . because it’s not.
“We’ll deal with that when the times comes, just as we did with [Dennis] Seidenberg. If Ference becomes available, we’ll have to deal with that too.”
A full host of healthy players is a good problem for any playoff hockey team to have, and it looks like that will be the case sooner rather than later for the Black and Gold.