The banged-up Boston defense is getting back to full health.
Well, close to full health.
On Monday, Andrew Ference — who hasn’t played since Game 5 of the Toronto series — was skating with Bruins strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides, a positive development in his recovery from a lower-body injury.
“He’s obviously on the mend,” Boston head coach Claude Julien told NHL.com. “But not ready to say he’s ready to go yet.”
The Bruins were able to dispatch of the Rangers without the services of Ference and Wade Redden in Round 2 against the Rangers, as a trio of young blueliners — Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug — filled in capably.
(Dennis Seidenberg missed the majority of the series as well, but did return for Game 5.)
It was an impressive performance by the youngsters, but one that will be tough to replicate against the Penguins if they’re again pressed into action.
Pittsburgh boasts four of the NHL’s top six playoff scorers at the moment — a far cry from a Rangers team that only averaged 2.17 goals per game in the playoffs.
Julien wouldn’t say either way if he’d put Ference straight back into the lineup once he becomes healthy.
“At one point you make a decision and it doesn’t mean that it’s an easy one, because it’s not,” he explained. “We’ll deal with it when the time comes.”
When the Boston Bruins take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, they might be at full strength — or at least close to it.
“We’re pretty good, actually. We’ve got Andrew [Ference] out, he’s making progress. Wade [Redden] is close, if not ready. Just the bumps and bruises are minor,” Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told CSN New England. “We got Dennis [Seidenberg] back. We’re in pretty good shape right now, knock on wood.”
In addition to defensemen Ference and Redden, Boston didn’t have blueliner Dennis Seidenberg available for the start of the second round, but he was able to return for Game 5 on Saturday.
Given how deep this year’s Penguins are, the Boston Bruins will need all hands on deck. However, the fact that they are healthy comes as something of a surprise to Chiarelli. After all, the regular season was condensed and the Bruins had to end it with a stretch of six games in just nine days to accommodate for postponed contests.
“I’m glad we’re at this juncture now with the bodies that we have, because I really thought, especially with those postponed games, I thought we were going to get hit at some point,” Chiarelli said.
The Bruins and Penguins will get a bit more time to rest and prepare while they wait for the outcome of the two Western Conference matches. The second-round could extend until Wednesday at the latest.
The Boston Bruins made a gutsy decision with pending restricted free agent Tuukka Rask going into 2013: let him prove he’s worth a new contract.
While he’s been successful when given opportunities (aside from that one series against the Philadelphia Flyers, maybe?), the 26-year-old’s resume was still pretty light. GM Peter Chiarelli told CSNNE.com that the Finnish netminder has proven himself with this deep playoff run.
“I’m happy for him that he’s playing well and he’s helping the team,” said Chiarelli. “It’s always easier to sign these guys after success. He’s showing some resiliency, which I like, and some durability, which I like.”
While Chiarelli indicates that it will be easier to make the decision to keep him, it certainly won’t be cheaper. The Bruins have the leverage advantage that comes with Rask being a restricted free agent, yet his price tag likely goes up with each playoff victory.
Rask is likely the headliner of an offseason with some significant questions, particularly when it comes to fellow free agents such as Nathan Horton, Jaromir Jagr, Andrew Ference and Anton Khudobin.
Regardless, Chiarelli likes that Rask is coming through in plenty of make-or-break situations.
“I liked [Rask’s] big saves,” Chiarelli said. “We had some real good games where, I’d have to go back and look, but I think we had a chance in every game. The last game, he had those two saves in the third. Not part of sustained pressure. You see a bunch of saves, it’s like point-blank [Ryan] Callahan to [Rick] Nash. Those are big saves. His ability to bounce back from the game before … I like that. It really is about the surges. I like that we’re seeing more of the same.”
Seeing more of it in 2013-14 and beyond could prove costly.
Now that the Bruins and Penguins are set to meet in the Eastern Conference finals, we can get down to the serious business of finding fun storylines to follow. One of the bigger ones? How the Bruins deal with facing the guy they nearly acquired in Jarome Iginla.
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli spoke with reporters today about whether it’ll be awkward facing Iginla even in spite of acquiring Jaromir Jagr after missing out on the former Flames star. Matt Kalman of NHL.com has the story.
“It’s been well-chronicled, the Iginla stuff and the Jagr stuff, so we’re happy with who we got. I know he’s been snake-bitten a little bit, but he’s had a lot of chances; he’s created a lot of chances,” Chiarelli said. “But more importantly, in addition to the looks he gives the PP, he wears down the D, and there’s always two guys on him. I think we would’ve been fine with either, but we’re very happy with [Jagr].”
Jagr has yet to score a goal in the playoffs and has just four assists through 12 postseason games. If he’s snake-bitten, the venom is long-lasting as he hasn’t scored since April 21 against Florida. Meanwhile, Iginla has four goals and eight assists in the playoffs for the Penguins.
Then again, Iginla wasn’t facing Henrik Lundqvist and James Reimer either. Tuukka Rask and the Bruins defense should provide the Penguins with their biggest challenge yet in the postseason.
The Pittsburgh Penguins foiled the Boston Bruins twice around the trade deadline, grabbing Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow after the B’s expected to land them. One can confidently wager that will come up more than a few teams now that the two teams will meet in the Eastern Conference finals.
(Neither one of the Western Conference finalists have been determined, although the Detroit Red Wings could change that by beating the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 5 on Saturday).
The Penguins have won the last two series between the two franchises, but those playoff matchups came in 1991 and 1992. Still, the two teams claimed recent championships and have a little bad blood in the past (Matt Cooke probably isn’t that popular in Boston to this day), so this collision between contenders shouldn’t take too long to draw some heat.
That Jaromir Jagr fellow hasn’t been forgotten in Pittsburgh, either.
Each squad ended their second-round series in five games, so there’s a chance that they’ll be well-rested in Round 3. Either way, this clash between black-and-gold teams could very well leave the winner black-and-blue.