PITTSBURGH -- Andrew Ference said he’s still wearing a protective boot on his injured foot, but you’d never guess he needs it after he made his successful return to the Bruins lineup in Game 1 versus the Penguins on Saturday night.
It was a surprise move by Bruins coach Claude Julien, given that Ference hadn’t been medically cleared to play as recently as Friday while recovering from a left foot injury, and that 24-year-old Matt Bartkowski had played so well in Ference's place. Bartkowski, a Pittsburgh native, had plenty of family and friends in the stands at CONSOL Energy Center to watch him take on the hometown Penguins, which had to have made for an incredibly difficult decision for Julien.
Ference seemed to acknowledge that after he jumped into the Bruins lineup for the first time since injuring himself on May 10 in the first round against the Maple Leafs.
“Obviously, it’s to play and it’s very difficult to watch. It’s easier when you’re winning to watch, but you want to contribute and participate in it,” said Ference. “Every guy that has had to play, Dougie [Hamilton] and [Bartkowski], has done a tremendous job, so it’s not the most comfortable situation . . . especially when Bart is here with family. It’s tough, and I know it’s tough because I’ve been in that situation before.
“It’s a hard call for a coach, and it’s a hard thing for players because we have a very tight group. But at the end of the day it’s hockey, that’s what happens and I think everybody has been mature about it. Whether they’re in or out, everybody has been good about it and very supportive, and just keeping positive about it to keep that good atmosphere in the room.”
At the end of the day, it’s never a wrong choice to go with the fiery, seasoned, smart veteran defenseman that’s a respected alternate captain in the dressing room, an unerring spokesman for his team and a valiant, team-oriented warrior as one will find on the ice in the playoffs.
He runs just behind Shawn Thornton as the player most likely to come to the defense of a wronged teammate on the ice, and he does it with a lot less size and natural fighting ability.
Ference has been through the conference finals on multiple occasions and has played in the most Game 7’s of any player on the Black and Gold roster. So it’s no surprise that Ference was a factor in 17:27 of ice time, and an assist on David Krejci’s first goal in Boston’s 3-0 win over the Penguins.
“[Seidenberg] took a pretty big hit, but in the process they had two forwards behind our net, and it allowed me to help [Lucic] a little bit on the breakout,” said Ference. “There was a little open ice, and it was nothing fancy. Just give it to the forward, and let him do the fancy stuff there. I was told it went off [their player], so it was a good goal for us because they had such good pressure on us to start the game.”
Given Ference’s standing as a touchstone emotional player for the Black and Gold and his unrelenting work ethic in the defensive zone that’s led to some pretty good battles with Sidney Crosby over the years, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise the Bruins defenseman was back into the fold for the conference finals. It should come as even less of a surprise that he made several positive contributions in his first playoff game back after a three-week hiatus.