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Savvier Savard shines

Bruin emerges as two-way star

Email|Print| Text size + By Barbara Matson
Globe Staff / February 2, 2008

WILMINGTON - It's obvious that Bruins goalie Tim Thomas got a lift from playing in his first All-Star Game, though he quickly suppresses the grin that comes when he is asked about the weekend.

But surely the recognition has helped puff up his chest - or his pads or something - as his play has been spectacular in the two games since, both victories. Coach Claude Julien used the word miraculous to describe his netminder.

Captain Zdeno Chara, voted an Eastern Conference starter, has been an All-Star before, and at 6 feet 9 inches he can take no more puffing up. He likely expected to go to Atlanta. Milan Lucic greeted his selection to the YoungStars Game with the same unbounded energy he has brought to his rookie season.

But what about Marc Savard? The Bruins' leading scorer (13 goals and 46 assists), currently riding a nine-game point streak, was tabbed for his first All-Star Game, too.

"It just felt like I can play with these guys," said the 30-year-old Savard, a 10-year veteran. "You always play against them. But I guess feeling confident is the biggest thing it gave me. It showed that we can play the elite game."

Since the All-Star break, the Bruins have defeated Nashville and Ottawa, with Savard setting up a goal in each game. Savard is now tied with Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk for the league lead in assists.

Savard has been a constant in the Bruins' ever-changing lineup, missing only one game as a rash of injuries has kept many key players on the sideline, including linemate Glen Murray. But Savard has adjusted to each new combination. For Thursday's 4-1 victory over the Senators, Peter Schaefer moved to the top line with Savard and Phil Kessel to replace Marco Sturm (stomach virus). Savard set up Kessel for a goal and scored one himself.

"He's a great passer, you've always got to expect the puck," Schaefer said of Savard. "He sees the ice, he's creative, and he tries a lot of things. He's confident, he hangs on to the puck, he's patient, like all the great players - they find the time and they find the ice."

Savard has adjusted to every new linemate with a shrug.

"I just continue trying to find guys, no matter who it is," said Savard. "I'm just playing hard."

This season, Julien has demanded more from Savard, particularly more defense.

"Marc's been able to adapt because he hasn't changed his game [with line changes]," Julien said. "He's accepted to play a certain way this year and it's helped him be reliable - just a good two-way game.

Julien gave him no choice.

"He accepted to play the game a certain way," said Julien. "Expected and accepted - both.

"And it's not just us. Everybody around the league has noticed that. He's gotten a lot of credibility and respect around the league for that."

As Savard has expanded his game, he has expanded his leadership role, bringing a brighter approach. He occasionally was the subject of rumors of having a bad attitude, which he said dates to his early days in Calgary when he and a coach butted heads. But he said his teammates have always known and valued his presence, and now the league has a better idea of who he can be.

"He's always been talking," said P.J. Axelsson, as he considered the change in Savard. "It's maybe another tone now. He's always been pretty easy to play with, but now he's really, really responsible in all three zones. He's a lot better defensively and he's still getting it done on offense. He's a more complete player."

The points are still coming for Savard. "I'm having fun, I'm enjoying the game," he said. "You know, I'm getting older and I don't know how much longer I'm going to play."

He's still talking, still playing the cutup. But he has a clearer focus this season.

"Right up to game time, I'm trying to keep guys loose [in the locker room] because it is a grind," said Savard. "Then I'm able to make that switch when the game starts."

The Bruins sent Pascal Pelletier back to Providence, but not before reassuring the feisty forward that he made a good impression during his six-game stay. Though he did not register a point, he made points with Julien. "I liked him and we made sure he was aware of that," said the coach. "He's got a lot of spunk, a lot of energy. He got into a lot of areas." The versatility of their young players has helped the Bruins weather the large number of injuries. "It's good because we're not afraid to call these guys up," Julien said. "I'd call [Pelletier] up in a heartbeat to play a regular shift." . . . Sturm skipped practice, but Julien expected him to play tonight when the Bruins host the Red Wings.

Barbara Matson can be reached at matson@globe.com.

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