- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference has always been the type of player that stands up for his teammates. He's the type of player that has repeatedly been outspoken on the NHL's attempt to protect players from dangerous hits and potential career-ending injuries.
Ference could now face a fine or suspension for his hit Saturday on the New York Rangers' Ryan McDonagh at the 1:50 mark of overtime. Ference was assessed a five-minute major for charging and given a game misconduct, and the Rangers capitalized on the opportunity and scored a power-play goal with 3.6 seconds remaining in OT for a 3-2 win.
"I was obviously going very fast. You try to let up and try to hold up and do what they teach you; obviously it was a bad end result with him going in pretty hard," Ference said.
McDonagh and Ference were racing for the puck as it trickled into the corner behind New York's net. Ference made contact with McDonagh, sending the Rangers' defenseman slamming into the boards. He remained on the ice for a few minutes before skating off on his own.
A play like this is one of the most dangerous hits in hockey. Both players were traveling at a high rate of speed and were only 5 feet from the end boards when contact was made. It doesn't take much of a body-to-body collision for it to end badly because of the momentum involved.
"I'm obviously going as fast as I can to try to get to the puck and I realized I wasn't going to get there first, he boxed me out and I leaned back, but I was going too fast," Ference said. "Obviously, it was a dangerous position. I tried to let up, didn't let up enough, fast enough."
When asked if he thought about he would hear from the league, Ference said he wasn't sure.
"I honestly haven't seen the replay and I don't know how it looks," he said. "I just know how the intent, obviously, I feel like I'm leaning back but didn't slow up fast enough. It's really [the NHL's] call."
Rangers coach John Tortorella firmly believes Ference was at fault and the league should act accordingly.
"Well, it's one of the most dangerous hits I've seen in a while," Tortorella said. "Nothing has to be said, as far as what should be done. I'm not going to play that, but it's a pretty easy call as far as I'm concerned."
As soon as McDonagh hit the boards, the Bruins' David Krejci was right there and leaned over to check on the injured player even before the whistle blew.
"It's kind of hard to say," Krejci said after the game when asked about the hit. "It's fresh and I haven't seen the replay. I was right there but Andy's not that guy. He was going hard for the puck, but he wouldn't hit a guy like that intentionally. He's a great guy and he cares about others. It happened so fast, it's hard to judge."
Coincidentally, injured Bruins forward Marc Savard attended the game and spoke prior to Boston's loss about his personal situation in regards to post-concussion syndrome, his future and the league's attempt to crack down on dangerous hits.
He believes that NHL top cop Brendan Shanahan is doing a good job trying to police the dirty stuff accordingly.
Dangerous plays are a sensitive subject in Boston given the fact that Savard's career is all but over, and Patrice Bergeron suffered a severe concussion that nearly led to career-ending injury in October 2007. The Bruins' assistant captain also suffered another concussion during the second round of the playoffs last spring. Boston's Nathan Horton also was on the receiving end of a blindside hit in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals last spring and didn't play another minute in the series.
Bruins coach Claude Julien has often talked about the subject and on Saturday came to Ference's defense.
"I don't think it really matters what I think about it because the decision certainly isn't going to be mine," Julien said. "What I do know is that there was no intent to injury there. We certainly don't like to see that and it's an unfortunate thing. It was a great game and you don't want to see a player get injured. It made it for an unfortunate ending to a great game.
"Andrew Ference is not a dirty player," added Julien. "He's one of those guys who certainly supports what the league is trying to do, as far as minimizing those injuries. It was a player chasing the puck and when he did get hit, his legs were pretty far apart. There wasn't a very good balance from their player and it certainly resulted in an unfortunate thing. We'll let the league look at it. Again, they dissect things their own way and we're waiting to hear from them."
Ference has also spoken out against his own teammates in the past, specifically last February when Daniel Paille was suspended for four games for his blindside hit on the Dallas Stars' Raymond Sawada.
Ference said at the time: "It's a bad hit, right? That's what they're trying to get rid of and you can't be hypocritical about it when it happens to you and say it's fine when your teammate does it. You hear it from every player after they do it; they feel bad. I talked to Danny and he feels bad. It's tough, that backchecking forward, to make those kind of hits. It's so hard to do it in a clean fashion with the new rules."
Ference made those comments nearly a year ago. Saturday's situation was in a different area of the ice, but still a dangerous play.
Ference went to the locker room after the play and had to watch on television as the Rangers' Marian Gaborik scored with 3.6 seconds remaining in overtime to give New York the victory and retain Eastern Conference supremacy.
"You don't want to cause somebody injury, so the five minutes doesn't help the team, but on top of that you just hope you don't put a guy in a bad spot," Ference said. "It's a bad thing, both ways."
The one thing that can't get overlooked is the fact that Saturday's game was an intense, physical, high-tempo contest that fans, and the teams, expected. There are still three regular-season games remaining between the two clubs in what could be a potential playoff matchup.
"It was a good game and it could have gone either way," Julien said. "I'm certainly not disappointed in our team.
"Anybody who doesn't think we played well tonight needs to re-evaluate how he looks at the game of hockey because it was a great game played by both teams and certainly what this league is looking for."
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.