WILMINGTON — Andrew Ference  is close to playing. How close? Well, that depends on whom you ask and when.
Ference, himself, said that he’s had a very good and productive week of practice as he comes off a left foot injury that sidelined him for the last two games of the first round series against Toronto and all five games against the Rangers.
“I’ve had some really good practices. I think it’s a matter of trainers and coaches figuring out that,” Ference said after Friday’s practice. “The only thing I can do is skate and do what I have to do to make myself ready. But, at a certain point, it’s in other people’s hands as well.”
“We’re certainly not going to tip our hands,” Julien said when asked about possible maneuvering with defensive pairings. “If Ference is cleared, we have to consider that.”
Ference was skating for a fourth straight day with Aaron Johnson. As it stands now, Zdeno Chara  and Johnny Boychuk  would start the series as the top D pair, followed by Dennis Seidenberg  and Matt Bartkowski and then Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug. Given Krug’s firepower on the power play, Bartkowski figures to be the odd man out when Ference is cleared.
“I feel good. I feel good,” Ference repeated moments later. “Good practices. I was able to take part in everything. It was nice to be at full speed with the guys. Feeling great. I think everybody is excited to get going here. We’ve done a lot of watching of the other series over the last few days. [Good to] get back to the real deal.”
The other major theme regarding Ference is his return to Pittsburgh. The Bruins are playing the Penguins  in the playoffs for the first time since Ference began his career in Pittsburgh in the 1999-2000 season, after being an eighth-round pick in 1997.
“As far as going back to Pittsburgh, I’m actually surprised this is the first time our teams have met up in the past few years. Obviously, we’ve both had success. Should be great hockey. Obviously, good for the game to have those good, big markets left over here,” Ference said.
Ference broke in on a team that included Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Mario Lemieux , Kevin Stevens and Alexei Kovalev. That team made it to the Eastern Conference finals in 2001 before bowing out to the Devils in five games.
“Breaking in is the highlight of anybody’s career, playing your first game and getting your foot in the door,” Ference said. “I was lucky enough to do it in a place where there were absolute hall of famers. You go down the roster of guys I got to play with in my first couple of years, it’s absolutely incredible. So, to get to watch those guys on a nightly basis, to play with them, to learn from them, a great way to start a career. We had a good playoff run in one year [where] we went to the semis and to have that early in your career as an experience is tremendous. It was really, really good.”
What kind of series is Ference expecting?
“We’ve probably had that conversation before the start of every series,” he said. “I think every playoff series there’s a buildup of ‘Are we anticipating physicality?’ I’d be absolutely shocked to see a series that doesn’t have physical play. It happens no matter what style of team you are or where you are in the playoffs. It’s not an optional thing for anybody to have success. Of course, I expect to it be as physical as any other series. It’s just out of necessity.
“It’d be nice but it’s a seven-game series so no matter what, it’s not over until the very end. We’ve learned that and other teams have learned that. No matter how the story unfolds, it’s a matter of obviously playing the whole series.
“Goalies are always the most important player on the ice and obviously, to have success, you have to start there and work your way out, especially when you face a team with extremely explosive offense. You have to have some big saves and some tremendous team defense. You get to this point, no matter the style of team, everybody is pretty dangerous on the ice. You can’t make it this far without good depth and having different people with the ability to score big goals and make big plays. It’s not just about shutting one or two guys, it is about a full-team buy-in to whatever system you choose to play.”