BOSTON — I caught up with Boston Bruins goaltender Manny Fernandez today after the morning skate at TD Banknorth Garden. He hadn’t been available to speak since he lost 4-3 in overtime to Philadelphia Saturday,  so I thought I’d find out who he’s feeling and how he assessed his play.

What I found was a Fernandez who sounded somewhat discouraged but could see the light at the end of the tunnel  as far as his play getting back on track after missing nearly a month of game action because of  a back problem that probably started while he was playing with an injured knee before surgery in  Dec. 2007.

Matt Kalman: So did the time off and all the exercises for your back pay off? You got a game under your belt the other day and I’m just wondering if it paid off?
Manny Fernandez: “Nothing pays off when you take a month off during the season. Nothing. I’m rusty in the middle of the season while everybody gets better … so it’s not a good feeling.”

MK: So you felt rusty and it was a bit of a struggle?
Fernandez: “It’s pretty evident to see that just not playing for a month, it’s just tough, it’s not easy. I mean, I put a lot of that stuff behind me. There’s no sense of sitting around and pouting about it. What’s done is done. I miss a year and a half and then there’s still some leftovers, so I kind of have to deal with that. It’s just the reality of it. So you try to do the best you can with what’s given to you. I’ve learned that it’s not better to go out there 50 percent and try to make it. You start hurting other places and that’s not a good thing to do.

MK: So are you optimistic that you’ll be OK for the next three, four, five months, however long this season goes?
Fernandez: “Yeah. I’m going to do exactly what I did at the beginning of the year. So … whether it keeps going on this run or not, I’ve got no intention to play otherwise. I’m just going to try to focus again, play hard in practice and try to do the best I can.”

MK: It’s just learning how to handle it I guess?
Fernandez: “Time off during the season, it’s tough to get back in it. It’s never easy. Everybody gets better. The level of play is up from when I left it. Like I said, you get dropped into it, the less time you get to think about it,  the better it is, I guess. And you go from there. Obviously, the last game I was definitely not happy with it. But what are you going to do about it? There’s nothing you can do. It’s frustrating and it’s not something I hope for. But stuff works out. There’s always a reason why stuff works out that way. I don’t know what it is; I can’t see it now.”

MK: So physically, you’re OK? You’re just trying to catch up after the time off?
Fernandez: “Physically, yeah. Physically, the time off kind of … well  whatever we did, it worked out for the best.”

MK: And that’s the most important part I guess — not to have any pain or discomfort.
Fernandez: “Well, like I said, there’s the fact that you missed a month. No one wants to do that. In a perfect world, nothing happens and you I keep playing. You lose a lot of things when you get out.”