Word came Sunday afternoon that the Bruins' blueline is even more banged-up than we thought it was heading into Game 6 of their series with the Maple Leafs.
Andrew Ference did not travel with the team to Toronto and will be out of the lineup for the second time in this series, as we has suspended for Game 2 for an elbow to Mikhail Grabovski's dome in the B's playoff opener. Ference has averaged over 22 minutes of ice time through four games in this series.
His absence will be far more damaging if Wade Redden isn't ready to return tonight. After earning a spot in the lineup down the stretch, Redden has been a valuable cog on the back-end for the Black and Gold during the playoffs, especially in Game 1 when he had a goal and an assist. He missed Game 5 with an undisclosed injury but has skated the last two days.
Ference's absence basically guarantees Matt Bartkowski will remain in the lineup. Theyoungblueliner was recalled from Providence on Friday but only saw 6:40 of ice time in Boston's Game 5 loss.
Should both Ference and Redden be held out of action, Julien will have to dress one of Dougie Hamilton or Aaron Johnson.
Hamilton, this year's Seventh Player Award winner, became the healthy scratch on the blue line once Redden emerged and secured a spot in the top six. Johnson skated in 10 regular-season games for the Bruins and has not played since March 30.
While some scenarios are worse than others, none of this bodes well for the Bruins.
Every NHL coach says they have all the confidence in the world in a player who's replacing an injured teammate, but we've seen plenty of instances where the box score indicates otherwise, with Bartkowski serving as a shining example. The last thing the Bruins need is two young blueliners they're worried about being shaky in an incredibly important game.
Furthermore, this could force the Chara-Seidenberg pairing to either be broken up or ridden into the ground. The latter could really bite the B's if there's a Game 7 tomorrow night. If they aren't split up, the Leafs will have two weakened pairings they can try to feast on, which will be much easier with the advantage of having last change on home ice.
And, even when/if the Bruins see their injured rearguards return, they certainly won't be at 100 percent. Even Boston's most ideal lineup would include at least three d-men in Redden, Ference and Johnny Boychuk that are really hurting right about now and would probably besidelined if this were the regular season.
This news just makes the Bruins' inability to close out the series on Friday night all the more frustrating. Winning in Toronto for the third time in this series and avoiding a decisive seventh game was going to be enough of a challenge for a healthy Boston team.
Now, an ailing one is going to have find a way to keep this club from being on the cusp of yet another playoff catastrophe.