BEDFORD — The walking boot was still on as Andrew Ference faced a scrum of reporters at Hanscom Field Tuesday morning after his team returned from a productive trip to Pittsburgh. Though he has come back to play in both games in the Penguins series, after missing three weeks of hockey, the defenseman is clearly not 100 percent.
Still, when asked about his health, he said it was good.
“I had a good rest all of last series,” he said. “So I’m probably fresher than most.”
His concern, in fact, was more cosmetic than anything.
“It would be nice to have matching shoes,” said Ference, who will see doctors this week to be reevaluated. “But it’s all right. It’s pretty solid.”
Even without two dress shoes, Ference has been a boon — in place of Pittsburgh native Matt Bartkowski — as the Bruins took the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals on the road with a defensive effort that has nullified the Penguins’ impressive attack.
And Ference, too, was right in the middle of the first goal the Bruins scored in the series, a goal that provided the margin of victory in Game 1. It was his first point of the playoffs.
“Great player, as you saw in the first game,” said coach Claude Julien. “He carried the puck up the ice and made a good rush, and we were able to score on that. He defends well. He’s a good battler.
“He’s come out and doesn’t seem like he’s missed a beat.”
Ference suffered the injury to his left foot in Game 5 of the first-round series against Toronto May 10, and missed the entirety of the Rangers series. He was replaced by Bartkowski, who, along with Torey Krug, performed admirably, becoming significant reasons why the Bruins moved past New York.
But when it came time for Pittsburgh, and for the defensive effort it would take to stop Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, it was time to get Ference back into the mix. It was not a sure thing in the days leading up to Game 1, but putting Ference on the ice was the game-time decision that Julien made, one that seems to have helped make up the difference between the Bruins and the Penguins.
Ference has teamed with Johnny Boychuk against Crosby’s line, with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg drawing Jarome Iginla, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal. Crosby has yet to score a point in the series, and his linemates, Chris Kunitz and Pasqual Dupuis, have also been held scoreless.
“There’s a lot of things he brings,” Julien said. “Experience. Leadership.”
The 34-year-old Ference, a former Penguin, has seen the Bruins go through just about every playoff scenario imaginable since he arrived in Boston late in the 2006-07 season. Starting with his first full season in Boston, he’s had six trips to the postseason — and one Stanley Cup.
In the Cup run of 2011, Ference was plus-10 and collected 10 points. He is plus-4 so far in this postseason.
“You learn a lot, obviously, from different situations that you’re in,” Ference said. “A lot of us have it together, and one of the important things about this time of year is just to have an even keel. It’s not the time of year to be playing purely off emotions.
“I think you really only get that through experience — good and bad.”
This series, with Ference on the ice, has been almost exclusively good. The Bruins will try to continue that with the action returning to Boston Wednesday, and they know that a key piece will be Ference manning the second defensive pairing.
“Very big,” Seidenberg said, of having his fellow defenseman healthy. “He’s very solid defensively. He keeps it simple. He calms everybody down, and makes smart plays. So to have him back is a big help.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.