Ference will help depleted defense

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Boston Bruins oft-injured defenseman Andrew Ference has been cleared to play and will be in the lineup Thursday for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Buffalo Sabres.

Ference missed 17 of the last 21 games with a hernia/groin injury, which will require surgery once the season is over.

"It's something that hopefully builds some character with our hockey club," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Having him back gives us some experience, no doubt. I know he hasn't played in a while, but our other guys have played well in his absence. I think we've got enough back there to do the job for us tonight."

The Bruins have been hampered by injuries to their defensive corp. with Mark Stuart (hand infection) and Dennis Seidenberg (forearm laceration) out for this series, so having Ference back will help spread out the ice time for the healthy defensemen.

"It was frustrating [watching games down the stretch]," Ference said. "You want to be a part of helping out and what's going on. We had so many injuries that guys like Zdeno [Chara] got pretty taxed with the minutes."

Ference said earlier this week after practice that if he were able to play, he didn't know if he would last one game or be able to play with the injury for the entire series.

Now that he's been cleared to play, he still doesn't know.

"It's a crap shoot," he said. "You go out there and play the same way. Obviously, you cross your fingers and hope it stays great and that I don't get into a spot where it's kind of an odd position I get into where I hurt it in the first place. I hope it doesn't get back to that. There's not much you can really do about it. You play normal and if it happens, it happens."

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.