His answer to a question about how excited he was to return to the lineup and contribute to the Bruins’ Game 1 win wasn’t three words old when Andrew Ference brought up the sympathy he had for Matt Bartkowski.

In order for Ference to return after a seven-game absence from a lower-body injury and play in the opening game of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday at Consol Energy Center, Bartkowski had to sit out after filling in ably for six games playing on a defense pair with Johnny Boychuk.

“It’s hard as a teammate to see Bart have to sit, especially when he’s got family here and he’s done such a great job in the last round,” Ference said after the Bruins took a 1-0 series lead.

Bartkowski was grateful that he was in his teammates’ thoughts.

“It means a lot. But, yeah, guys are like that around here,” the 24-year-old said yesterday after the morning skate in preparation for Game 2, which he also sat out. “A bunch of good guys. I mean, what else can you say? It means a lot for him to say something like that.”

Bartkowski grew up in nearby Mount Lebanon, Pa., and his family still lives there. He was a Penguins fan and even had several opportunities to skate at the old Civic Arena as a kid.

In the week leading up to the start of this series, Bartkowski had to deal with an increase in attention from the media, as well as from friends and family looking for tickets to see him face the hometown team — or ribbing him for trying to beat their beloved Penguins.