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Return of Savard to Bruins would be just what doctor ordered

By Kevin Paul Dupont
April 26, 2010

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Early this afternoon, Marc Savard will head to a doctor’s office, undergo yet another neuropsych test (considered slightly trickier than the SAT), and hope to hear the sweet words, “Yep, you’re good to go.’’

Good to go, like tonight at the Garden, in Game 6 of the Bruins’ first-round playoff series with the Sabres. Good to go, like grab a stick and strap on the helmet — one just out of the box, by the way — and work the kind of magic that was woefully missing when the rest of his teammates skated without passion Friday night in Buffalo.

Everyone in Black and Gold looked aimless in that visit to HSBC Arena. They just couldn’t point to Matt Cooke as the root cause of their Grade 9.8 cerebral malaise, as Savard can.

Savard is close to returning from his concussion. Very close. Anyone who sat in the Garden’s empty stands late yesterday morning, watching the tricky pivot scoot around with Brad Marchand and Trent Whitfield his wingers, had to draw the same conclusion. He skated with zip, confidence, even a smile.

In medical terms, he looked straight on his skates, able to take liquids, maybe even quarterback a power play from the right half-wall. What, your doc doesn’t use those terms? Time to look for a new provider.

“If you’re asking me, yeah, I could play,’’ said Savard, knowing that he gets only partial say in the matter, and no say at all if he flunks Neuropsych 101. “But if it means I’m watching another one, then that’s what it’s going to be.’’

Moments later, the 32-year-old added, “I’m excited, that’s for sure.’’

Without Savard, delivered to Palookaville when Cooke cranked him across the side of the head March 7 in Pittsburgh, the Bruins were all but absent a power play for the final six weeks of the season. They struggled on the man-advantage even when he was healthy. They’ve been slightly better in the postseason, going 4 for 17 (23.5 percent) in five games, but there is little doubt that getting Savard back in uniform, even if all he did was roll over the boards for the advantage, would bring a boost of ener gy and emotion throughout the lineup.

Coach Claude Julien, asked what conclusion he might draw about Savard’s readiness if all he had was yesterday’s view from the Garden stands, offered little hint as to which way it could go tonight.

“He’s coming around, no doubt,’’ said Julien. “That’s all I can tell you right now . . . it’s all we have. So there is nothing we can do but keep working with him, try to get him in shape.’’

The bet here is that Savard is wearing his familiar No. 91 tonight, provided all his medical mojo is found to be in order this afternoon. Not only could he contribute on the power play, where extra space on the ice would limit his risk of getting hit, but Julien also would have an easier time spotting him into even-strength situations. Home team, remember, gets last change.

With the last change on his side, Julien could make sure Sabres coach Lindy Ruff doesn’t have the head-hunting Adam Mair out there or the slash-and-dash Paul Gaustad. To give Savard some extra protection, Julien could have Milan Lucic riding as his left winger. Just as Savard has been waiting for his head to clear, Lucic has been waiting for his game to return. Right now, they look like they’re made for each other.

“If it takes me playing only 10 minutes [tonight],’’ mused Savard, “or if I’m watching for another 60, that’s OK with me.’’

Not really. Savard wants in there. There isn’t a guy in the league who wants to sit, especially at this time of the season. In Savard’s case, it has to be even more of an ache, given that he watched from the press box Friday night when his clear-thinking teammates played like zombies for the first 40 minutes of what turned into a 4-1, season-extending loss to their old Adams Division rivals. Instead of moving on to Round 2, they only stirred up a belly full of worry.

If Savard does get to suit up tonight, look for Julien to ease him in in those power-play situations. Once convinced Savard can handle light duty, Julien then could think about putting him out there with Lucic as bodyguard on the left and maybe either Michael Ryder or Miro Satan on his right. But that’s getting ahead of the head doc.

First comes the neuropsych test, one Savard has grown accustomed to over the last six weeks.

“Yeah, but it will be different words and that stuff,’’ he offered, “that’s about it.’’

For weeks he felt miserable, his energy low and appetite off. Now he has the dirty stubble of a playoff beard and a touch of the familiar “Savvy’’ smart-aleckness evident in his moves on the ice and how he ambles through the dressing room. The doc won’t even have to shine a flashlight in his pupils today if Savard talks some smack with the receptionist, winks at everyone in the waiting room, or refuses to move more than 18 inches away from the examining room’s half-wall.

“I’ve been a little tired, you know, falling asleep at 9 o’clock,’’ said Savard. “But conditioning-wise, I’ve got my wind. I felt strong out there [yesterday].’’

Note to the doc: Forget all that neurological mumbo jumbo for today’s exam. Here’s what you do — smack a tongue depressor three times on the counter, nice and loud. If Savard’s eyes open wide and he flashes his forearms in a passing motion, then just call the next patient. Yep, good to go.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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