WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Although the Boston Bruins managed to force Carolina to seven games after being down 3-1 in last season's Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series, a lot of their fate was sealed during Game 3 when defenseman Andrew Ference suffered a series ending groin injury.
Without Ference, the Bruins' ability to move the puck out of their own end and handle the Hurricanes' forecheck was severely hindered.
Through four games and a little more than a week of the '09 preseason, Ference is the only veteran who hasn't skated in an exhibition match yet. That, however, isn't a sign that there's anything awry in Ference's return from offseason groin and hernia surgery.
"It was a big step just coming to full-speed, full-contact practices, which was good, over the last little bit," said Ference on Monday after going full-tilt in a practice with about half the squad at Ristuccia Arena. "Yesterday we had a chance to back off a bit and be off. We stacked eight days in a row to get the strength back up in it."
Ference, who at stretches of last season was lauded by head coach Claude Julien as the club's best defenseman, had his usual offseason workouts postponed by the surgeries. So when he reported to camp he wasn't sure if he'd even be able to go through the testing. He completed and passed the conditioning exam and slowly but surely has increased his on-ice workouts. He will make his preseason debut Tuesday night against the Blue Jackets. Julien said Monday, "I'm inclined to possibly use him tomorrow (Tuesday in a preseason game in Columbus)." That would be another major step toward Ference being able to contribute when the season opens on Oct. 1.
"I think it's just a matter of getting the first (game) and seeing how it feels after that," said Ference about his plan for preparing for the regular season. "It's too hard to write the script beyond that because I'm at the point now where I'll see how it feels. It's like practice -- you see how it feels when you get hit, you see how it feels after three days in a row of intense practice."
For all intents and purposes camp is now half done with four of the eight preseason games in the rearview mirror. After tomorrow night's contest, the Bruins finish up with three games in three nights Thursday-Saturday. That scheduling quirk means that although roster decisions will have been made by the weekend, there will be extra players sticking with the big club a little longer than might be usual.
"We've got more or less our team in place and we've got a couple spots that are open here and there and I think there is a battle going on as far as that's concerned," Julien said. "But it's mostly about our schedule that doesn't allow us to trim our roster as quick as we'd like to. So we have to keep some extra bodies around."
Rookie winger Jeff LoVecchio passed a couple of personal tests in the win up in Quebec on Sunday night. He checked Mathieu Darche into the glass, dislodging the pane from its spot in the boards. And he defended himself against Sergei Kostitsyn in a spirited bout after a somewhat shady move by the Montreal winger to make contact with LoVecchio's head when the Bruins forward was sliding across the ice. LoVecchio missed all of last season with post-concussion symptoms but has been 100 percent fine throughout camp.
The Bruins returned forward Max Sauve to Val d'Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League today. The 19-year-old impressed with 1-2-3 totals and a plus-2 rating in two games. After his junior season is over, he'll be a candidate to aid the Bruins' farm club in Providence (AHL).
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. He has been on the Bruins beat since the lockout for numerous publications and has been covering the Boston sports scene for a decade. Send any questions for Matt to his mailbag and he might answer them in his Bruins mailbag.