|Bruins d-man Andrew Ference collides with Montreal's Mathieu Darche. (Getty)|
BOSTON -- For nearly the entirety of the second half of the season, it was a matchup that seemed destined to happen.
No matter how things shook out, it appeared as though there was no way the Hockey Gods were going to allow the Boston Bruins to face any other team in the first round than their historic rival, the Montreal Canadiens.
Even defenseman Andrew Ference had a feeling that fate truly wanted these two Original Six squads to square off.
"When there was 15 games left in the season we were matching up, so it's not a surprise," said Ference. "We know them so well. It's just a lot of games where it feels natural to be out there with them."
Ference, now in his fifth season in Boston, is part of a Bruins club that has gone to battle in the postseason with Montreal in three of the last four years. Since pushing the Habs to a Game 7 in the spring of 2008, expectations have been quite high for the Black and Gold.
"The first full year when I was here and we finally made the playoffs, that was the only year where I felt like we kind of exceeded expectations," said Ference, as the eighth-seeded Bruins nearly reached the second round that year.
"Every year since then, the expectations have been high. We've had really good regular seasons and a solid group of guys. This is just a continuation of that. The only way guys will be happy is to go all the way and win the Stanley Cup. That's been the goal around here for the last few years."
Ference has been a part of lengthy playoff runs in years past, reaching the Eastern Conference finals with the Penguins and the Stanley Cup finals in 2004 as a member of the Flames.
Getting another crack at achieving every hockey player's ultimate goal is something the 32-year-old veteran is incredibly grateful for.
"You really appreciate the opportunity," Ference said. "It's a chance for redemption. Every time you lose in the playoffs you fear that it's your last chance to really do something. Every time you get another chance at it, you don't take it for granted."
While Ference is about to embark on his seventh trip to the playoff since breaking into the league during the 1999-00 season in Pittsburgh, there's a short list of teammates -- including rookie Brad Marchand and former Panthers Greg Campbell and Nathan Horton -- that will get their first taste of postseason play on Thursday night.
"I'm sure it's different for everybody," Ference said when asked about the overall excitement level. "Some guys are playing their first game in the playoffs this year. I remember my adrenaline was flying when I made it."
With 74 postseason tilts under his belt, Ference has been more than happy to offer words of wisdom to the Bruins band of playoff newcomers.
"It's nice when you clinch early and have time to wrap your head around it," he said. We've talked about it. There's no secrets. It's still the same game, just the volume's turned up a bit."
As for what the Black and Gold must do to succeed, Ference knows there are many factors, but believes the most pivotal one is for each and every member of the team to be playing their best hockey of the season.
"A lot of things have to come together in the postseason," he said. "Individually, guys have to peak and be at their best. At this point of the season, everyone has the X's and O's down. I think what it boils down to is guys maxing out what they've got and making a run.
"The tough thing is that everyone who makes the playoffs is trying to do the same thing. You've just got to throw your cards on the table and see what you have."
With Game 1 set to begin at 7 o'clock at TD Garden later on this evening, the Bruins will soon have an idea of how their hand stacks up.