BOSTON — After receiving a three-game suspension for hitting Ryan McDonagh from behind in their 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Rangers a couple of weeks ago, Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference returns to the lineup for Thursday’s contest against the Carolina Hurricanes at the TD Garden.
Ference, who earned his first suspension in nearly 700 career NHL regular season games, will play for the first time in two weeks and will likely battle through some rust in his first game since Jan. 21 (before the All-Star break) — a span of 10 days.
“This would have been like having an Olympic break during those particular years,” Ference said after Wednesday’s practice. “If you’re injured or banged up then it’s the greatest thing in the world. But if it’s not then you’d rather not take any break at all. I’ve been healthy all season, so it’s best not for me to take those breaks.”
Ference missed several games late last year due to injury from the end of February through the middle of March and his presence was sorely missed. When he returned, the 14-year defenseman provided stability and was an intrigual part of the Bruins’ cup run.
This year, Ference has been healthy all year and has contributed with 20 points (4 goals, 16 assists) while averaging 18:29 of ice time. During the three-game layoff, however, Boston’s blueline struggled without him — despite going 2-1 in that span — giving up 13 goals.
Against a team like Carolina, who has had the Bruins’ number all season, Ference’s return couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I think he’s been a pretty stable force out there for us,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I’ve liked his game this year. He’s been a real healthy player, and I think that’s what held him back in the past as far as being appreciated for what [type of player] he really is. Because every time he’d come back, he’d have to find his game again, but he’s been real consistent and he’s been reliable.
“I think he’s had a great year, so getting him back in our lineup will give us that experienced guy we can lean on a little bit more and maybe take some ice away from the guys getting heavy minutes.”
Assuming Adam McQuaid (game-time decision) is good to go after skating this morning, Ference will likely return with his fellow defensive pair in the lineup. If McQuaid can’t go, then expect Ference to pair with Steven Kampfer.
Regardless of Ference’s defensive partner don’t expect him to change his style of play after his first career suspension from Brendan Shanahan.