BOSTON (CBS) — Although the breakup between the Bruins and Andrew Ference was amicable last summer, there has to be some part of the Edmonton Oilers defenseman’s heart that wishes his old team was missing him a little more.
Instead, the Bruins continue to prove that their decision to let Ference leave because of salary-cap implications and let some their younger defensemen get a shot was the indisputable right move for the present and the future of the organization.
The Eastern Conference-leading Bruins team which Ference and his last-place Oilers will host Thursday night looks a little different on the surface. Last year’s playoff rookie revelation Torey Krug has taken over Ference’s job full-time among the Bruins’ top six. There are a few other new faces in the lineup, because of trades and signings from last summer, and a rash of injuries that have hit over the past week or so.
But one thing still remains, even with Ference’s ruggedness, determination and leadership no longer part of the Bruins – the team still plays with the type of heart that made Ference a perfect fit with it for so many seasons, and made the Bruins Stanley Cup champions in 2011.
With three players in their lineup that just joined the team from the Providence (AHL) farm club over the weekend, the Bruins managed to grind out another win – their third straight – Tuesday night in Calgary. In addition to playing without Loui Eriksson, Chris Kelly, Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton, Adam McQuaid and Dougie Hamilton, the Bruins were also dealing with a flu bug that was affecting at least a handful of players. A look at one of the close-ups of Bruins center Gregory Campbell, who looked several shades of Kermit the Frog, confirmed there were players in black and gold who probably would’ve been better off in bed than on the ice.
Nonetheless, the Bruins played one period of vintage Boston hockey and left town with two points. During that two-goal third period, you forgot who was in or out of the lineup. It was a four-line smackdown with everyone contributing, including the defensemen. Injuries, illness and suspensions have done little to slow down the Bruins in recent years, and they were conquered again Tuesday.
Reilly Smith and Matt Bartkowski are two of the high-profile players filling in the gaps for the Bruins’ missing. But a player Ference would surely appreciate is Kevan Miller, a 26-year-old undrafted defenseman who’s not only worked his way into the conversation about the Bruins’ organizational depth on defense, but also has made his case in a brief time about becoming a regular among the top six. There’s unquestionable talent in the stay-at-home blue-liner, but the desire and work ethic that have put him on the cusp of full-time NHL work are reminiscent of what eighth-round pick Ference once had to do to make it in the NHL, and then had to continue to do to be a key cog in a championship machine.
Ference, a player who loved the Bruins and a person who loved Boston, would be glad to know that the Bruins are still the type of team they were when he left. He’ll get an up-close look Thursday. There’s no telling who will be in and who will be out of Boston’s lineup, but there’s no doubt how much resilience and fight will be in those guys in the black and gold sweaters.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.