His use of the middle finger on his gloved left hand -- as superb TV slo-motion replays on the CBC showed in all its glory -- to celebrate his comeback goal midway through the second period against the Montreal Canadiens surely was unintentional. Wasn't it?
No? Well, we were just sort of running the idea up the digital flagpole to see if anybody saluted. The league itself certainly didn't, as Mr. Ference was docked $2,500 for his little gesture.
Apparently, this is the spring of the interactive NHL playoffs. In Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, New York fans chanted, Can you hear us? at Washington coach Bruce Boudreau, who had had the effrontery during a radio interview to criticize the self-proclaimed World's Most Famous Arena. (Take that, Colosseum in Rome.) And 24 hours later, with the Canadiens and Bruins involved in the 33rd playoff meeting of their ill-willed rivalry, Ference, who is decidedly carbon-neutral but might have strong feelings about the 21,273 in the Bell Centre who had been jeering Boston captain Zdeno Chara every time he touched the puck, engaged the crowd with a gesture better left to the schoolyard at recess or the expressway at rush hour.
"Coach (Claude Julien) just showed me it, and it looks awful," Ference said in the Bruins dressing room after the game. "I can assure you that's not part of my repertoire. It looks awful. I admit it. I completely apologize to how it looks ... It's not who I am or who I'll ever be." In other words, Ference, who works green and not blue, would be the last person to do that to the Montreal fans. Of course, he was to do it to the Montreal fans.
Anyway, this is beyond dispute: The Bruins flipped off the yoke of mediocrity, some dodgy goaltending by Tim Thomas, a bad line change on a Montreal goal and all sorts of hockey misdemeanors to even the series against the Canadiens, two games each, with a 5-4 overtime win. Michael Ryder, the former Montreal winger, scored the winner 1:59 into the extra period -- his second goal of the game -- but the Bruins' turnaround started with a timeout called by Julien after Montreal goals 55 seconds apart in the second period had given the Canadiens a 3-1 lead. The Bruins, guilty of poor communication and a disjointed line change on the third goal, apparently needed the 30 seconds to compose themselves. Barely two minutes after the little chinwag, Ference, with a wide open shooting lane, hammered a 35-footer past goalie Carey Price -- "Usually I bang those off the glass," he said -- and the Bruins began the slow climb back, abetted by a Canadiens team that, rather the sitting back, simply failed to play high-IQ hockey.
This was the night the defense rested, excepted at the offensive end: Three of the nine goals were scored by defensemen, including two once-in-a-blue-moon blueliners, Ference and the Canadiens' Brent Sopel, who beat Thomas stick side from 40 feet to open the scoring. (These were the fourth career playoff goals for both.) And so it went. There were more bad reads than in a rack of supermarket novels and chasms of open space for forwards. The teams took a combined 70 shots in regulation, a formidable number considering there were only three power plays awarded in the first 60 minutes. This was not the kind of hockey that is generally preferred by a pair of coaches, Julien and Montreal's Jacques Martin, who like their hockey buttoned-down, but sometimes you just are obliged to play the game you have. This one was sloppy and riveting, up-tempo and messy, a game of oops that tested Thomas' balky rebound control and a Montreal defense that looked lost except when the first pair of P.K. Subban and Hal Gill was on the ice.
"I guess we're in the business of entertaining," said Boston's Chris Kelly, who scored the goal with 6:18 left that would send the game into overtime and might have been offsides on the winner. "You can't say people didn't get their money's worth."
"Usually we're good on our line changes," Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk said, "but in this series, we've gotten a too many men (penalty), another time there could have been a too many men. We just have to make sure about these line changes. There were little details that made the game."
For Montreal, it proved to be big detail. A poor change gave Boston a three-on-one in the overtime, which Ryder, alone to Price's right, cashed after a slick pass from Kelly. (Scott Gomez and Canadiens captain Brian Gionta both ended up on the ice; each was an inglorious minus-3.) This marked the third and final time the Canadiens would kick away a lead with a chance to take a stranglehold in series. "With the kind of team we have," said Montreal defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, the lone blueliner back on the Bruins' winning rush, "that shouldn't happen."
Wayne Gretzky always used to say that a series doesn't really start until the home team loses. Through four games, the home team has not won a game. The series now shifts to Boston Saturday -- where the Canadiens look to grab the away-ice advantage.