PITTSBURGH – This is why you need to have Andrew Ference in your lineup.
No, not just because he led the rush up ice and then drove the net to help set up what proved to be the game-winning goal by David Krejci 8:23 into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals Saturday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
No, not just because he skated 17:27, much of the time against high-octane Pittsburgh’s best offensive talents and helped keep them off the board in the Bruins’ 3-0 win in his first game back since he was injured May 10.
It’s because Andrew Ference is such a leader that when asked to celebrate his return to the lineup and express the joy he felt being part of such a pivotal victory, he still had a teammate who was in a less fortunate position in his thoughts. And he expressed those emotions.
“Wonderful. Simply. I mean, it’s tough,” Ference said when asked what it felt like to be back. “It’s hard as a teammate to see [Matt Bartkowski] have to sit, especially when he’s got family here and he’s done such a great job in the last round.
“You want to contribute in any way possible, whether you’re playing or not. So that whole last series was tough to watch, but I think the further on you get in your career, you realize how important it is to be in a support role and offer anything you can, whether you’re playing or not. Obviously as a player you want to be on the ice and you want to be contributing. That’s a great feeling to be out there and to be in the room after good games. Like I said, on the same token, I’m extremely impressed with how the team played and how they handled the uncomfortable situation with a surplus of defensemen.”
All week long Bartkowski talked about the excitement of getting to play a postseason game near his hometown of Mount Lebanon, Penn. And then he didn’t get to play. Coach Claude Julien wouldn’t expand on his decision to re-insert Ference, but noted Ference’s experience and solid week of practice as a couple reasons for the change.
Bartkowski was strong for the Bruins during their Game 7 triumph against Toronto in the first round and then their first-game victory against the New York Rangers in the second round. It wasn’t as easy a decision to take him out for Ference the way it was when Dennis Seidenberg replace Dougie Hamilton for Game 5 against the Rangers. Nonetheless, it was move that had to be made.
Ference is not only a solid player, he’s a glue guy. On some teams he’d be a captain. In all his years he’s been with the Bruins, we’ve seen him stick up for teammates more than anyone maybe other than Shawn Thornton. His ability to keep cool under pressure is contagious on the ice, and his eloquence in the locker room with his teammates and the press is invaluable.
Andrew Ference has his deficiencies. Sometimes he makes a mistake that you can’t believe when he’s trying to break the puck out. But he never gets outworked, never gets outhustled and, in the playoffs, he’s always using his years of championship-level experience (one Stanley Cup win, one other trip to the finals) to put his influence on the game, typically in his team’s favor.
The experiences Matt Bartkowski went through these playoffs will pay off for him down the road. Maybe he’ll even be called upon to play again before the Bruins are ousted. He made a contribution worthy of getting name on the Cup.
But Andrew Ference is a whole other animal. He’s the type of player who empties his tank every night. He’s the type of player that, when he’s healthy, you don’t sit him out for the sake of keeping a winning formula together. Because he’s the type of ingredient that can make that formula better.