BOSTON – Every year come playoff time, a lot is made of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg playing together, and rightfully so. They’re usually split up during the regular season to give the lineup more balance, but when they’re put together for the playoffs, they form arguably the best shutdown pairing in the league.
But the Bruins have another playoff pairing that is perfectly OK with being overshadowed by Chara and Seidenberg. Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk don’t play together much during the regular season either, but as a result of Chara and Seidenberg being put together, they’ve found themselves paired up on the Bruins’ second defensive unit each of the last three postseasons.
Ference and Boychuk have both been in Boston long enough that they’re fairly comfortable playing with just about anyone, but Ference said he and Boychuk seem to bond a little more easily because of their similar backgrounds. Both are from Edmonton, and both are more of the stay-at-home type than the offensive type.
“We joke about it a bit, that we’re both from around Edmonton,” Ference said. “I think it actually helps a little bit because we both have a similar outlook on how the game should be played. I think we were probably brought up on a very similar style of hockey. It helps us understand what the other guy’s doing a bit.
“We know the position. Out there [in Edmonton], instead of just getting thrown on defense because you’re not a good forward, you choose defense. It’s like an honor to be back there, and that’s from a young age. That’s the primary focus of our game, stopping the other team. We take a lot of pride in it. When stuff happens offensively, that’s a bonus, but there’s definitely real pride in living up to the name of the position.”
Plenty of stuff has happened offensively for Boychuk this postseason. After scoring just one goal in the regular season, he’s netted five in 18 playoff games, including the game-winning goal in Game 2 against the Rangers and the game-tying goal in Game 3 two nights later. Boychuk has repeatedly said he can’t really explain his postseason scoring outburst, and Ference said that’s probably because Boychuk isn’t doing anything different. More of his shots are just going in.
“Having a shot that hard definitely helps. There’s truth to what he says, though,” Ference said. “You take those shots all the time. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. It basically boils down to that. The difference of having a guy an inch over here and blocking the goalie’s view, there’s just so many things that go into pucks going in for you. Sometimes you just get hot. There’s not always a good explanation for it. You just keep trying to do the same thing you’re doing.”
Ference was forced to watch those two goals against the Rangers from the sidelines after suffering a lower-body injury in the first round that forced him to miss seven games. He said it was tough not being out there, but that the team winning made it easier. As an alternate captain, Ference knew he still had to contribute in other ways even if he couldn’t play.
“You have to contribute something, whether it’s supporting one or two guys, or just in general having a positive impact on the team,” Ference said. “That’s what it turns into. You can’t just be dead weight around the room. Even if you’re injured or scratched, you have to contribute something.”
Although Matt Bartkowski played well in Ference’s absence, coach Claude Julien decided to go right back to Ference-Boychuk once Ference was healthy. It’s paid off. The two are a combined plus-6 in the six games since Ference returned, and they’ve done it while frequently matching up against one of the opponent’s top two lines.
Against Pittsburgh, Ference and Boychuk, along with Patrice Bergeron’s line, were tasked with shutting down the Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Pascal Dupuis line. Against Chicago, Ference, Boychuk and the Bergeron line have teamed up against the Patrick Sharp-Michal Handzus-Patrick Kane line. Those six forwards have combined for two goals and three assists over those six games.
Bergeron gets the most credit for limiting those star-powered lines, but Ference and Boychuk deserve recognition as well. When they’re playing like this, the Bruins have arguably the best second pairing in the NHL as well as the best first pairing.