As Andrei Markov wound up to uncork a one-timer on Manny Fernandez, Andrew Ference had the play charted out in his mind.
It was last Thursday at TD Banknorth Garden. Just over a minute remained in the second period, with the Bruins holding a 4-1 lead over Montreal. Markov, floating into the offensive zone, had taken a feed from Alex Tanguay and started his backswing.
Ference saw that Christopher Higgins was entering the slot area for a rebound. So instead of filling Markov's shooting lane, Ference shifted to the side of the net, thinking he'd give Fernandez a good look at the shot and put himself in position to clear out a rebound.
But Markov's one-timer sailed wide right and smashed squarely into the inside of Ference's right ankle, dropping the defenseman.
"It killed," Ference said yesterday. "It really hurt. The first second or two, it was really painful. I realized the ref wasn't going to blow the whistle, so I figured I better not lay down there and wait for it.
"I didn't think it was bad because I was able to stand up, finish my shift. I thought it might not be horrible. If it was really bad, I shouldn't be able to do that. I was wrong."
Ference would learn the next day that he had suffered a fractured right tibia. On Monday, Dr. George Theodore performed a 90-minute procedure at Massachusetts General Hospital, inserting two screws into Ference's leg. Ference is not expected to return to game action until January.
"If he had any aim," Ference said of Markov, "I wouldn't be hurt right now."
After taking the shot, Ference limped to the bench, sat there until the end of the period, then shuffled to the dressing room by leaning on his stick. During the second intermission, he had an X-ray that didn't reveal any damage. But when he stepped off the trainer's table and couldn't put any weight on his leg, Ference knew something unfortunate had taken place. A CAT scan the next day revealed the fracture.
Ference had the option of wearing a hard cast and hoping for the leg to heal instead of undergoing surgery. But he was told that there were risks to going the non-surgery route.
"If the bone starts moving, you can have some really serious problems," said Ference, who would have been in a cast for six weeks. "It's non-weight-bearing, but there's still a chance the bone could move. If it moves and starts to heal or doesn't heal, there's a whole list of other problems.
"It's major surgery after that. You can do serious damage to the ankle. The other option was to put screws in and be assured it doesn't move. The only risk you have is the surgery itself. So it was a pretty easy decision."
Ference, sidelined for Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Rangers and Monday's 3-2 win over the Maple Leafs, had been the Bruins' most consistent defenseman. He had been skating on the second pairing with Dennis Wideman, playing the point on the No. 2 power-play unit, and killing penalties regularly.
"Brutal," Ference said of watching his teammates on TV. "Did enough of that last year."
Spectating was particularly difficult for Ference because of his strong play. "Mentally, I was in a good spot at the rink every day," he said. "We were winning and feeling good. I think that you tend to keep your game a little more simple when you're winning and having success as a team. Your own game is a lot more basic. You don't try to do too much. You make simple plays. That feeds on itself."
The Bruins are carrying six healthy defensemen. Puck-moving blue liners like Ference are in short supply and high demand around the NHL, so general manager Peter Chiarelli would have to pay a hefty price to acquire one. With three games in four nights this week (tonight against Buffalo at TD Banknorth Garden, home again Friday against Florida, at Montreal Saturday for Patrick Roy's retirement ceremony), the Bruins would most likely bring up a defenseman from Providence, with Matt Lashoff the probable candidate.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org