Shoot-first approach a savvy switch
Marc Savard isn’t usually a shooter, but this has been a season of unaccustomed circumstances for the veteran Bruins center. His biggest, most difficult adjustment was being told to sit around in March and April, wait for the fog and anxiety in his head to clear, the Grade 2 concussion he suffered March 7 threatening to finish his season.
Then with 13:52 gone in overtime yesterday, playing his first game in nearly two months, he was presented with one of those pass-or-shoot options. Typically, with options galore and even a delayed penalty waiting at the pickup window, he would choose pass. First, last, and always — pass — that’s what centers do.
Not this time.
“I don’t know, I figured, ‘Why not get a shot on net?’ ’’ said Savard, shortly after drilling home the winning goal in a 5-4 victory over the Flyers that handed the Bruins a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven second-round playoff series. “It just landed perfect. I clipped it with everything.
“And there was a penalty, too — someone whacked Dennis [Wideman’s] stick out of his hands — and I just figured, ‘Let’s put one on net and see what happens.’ And it went in.’’
Short side, in fact. Flyers goalie Brian Boucher, otherwise sensational in the overtime — especially during an opening assault in the first six minutes — errantly left open the smallest window near the right post and Savard dotted it with Rembrandt’s touch. Whatever ailed Savard’s head for weeks, it obviously took nothing off his vision or shooting sense.
Savard teed it up from the right circle, waiting first for Wideman to make a pinch along the right wall, then hammered the puck home before defenseman Braydon Coburn could disrupt the shot with his one-handed stick poke.
No, not the old Savard. Better.
For a guy who really doesn’t like to shoot, he landed the biggest bomb of the season, throwing an emotional charge into a sellout crowd of 17,565 at the Garden and one that sent him rocketing clear across the ice for a victory celebration. The party didn’t get into full swing until all of his teammates poured over the bench and made the cross-ice journey to join him.
“It’s great,’’ said fellow center Patrice Bergeron, a man who knows a thing or two about the long, uneven journey back from Palookaville. “I’m happy for him. He’s such a great player and it seemed like he didn’t miss a beat out there.
“You know, I’m not surprised, to be honest with you.’’
Keeping to the game plan, coach Claude Julien eased Savard into the action. His ice time picked up as the afternoon played out, and as the Bruins lost forwards Marco Sturm and Vladimir Sobotka to injuries. By overtime, with the rust worn off and the game on the line, Savard was getting more ice, more looks at the net, including the last one.
“I felt he was fresh enough, not overplayed,’’ noted Julien, “so we put him in different situations.’’
Midway through the third period, no one expected the day would come down to overtime. The Bruins looked in control with a 4-2 lead, delivered on a David Krejci strike with 7:25 gone in the third. Savard, by that time, had enjoyed a successful but rather pedestrian afternoon. The highlight had been when he skated on the ice for the first time with 1:15 gone in the first, joined by linemates Dan Paille and Michael Ryder.
The Garden crowd came to its feet the moment Savard left the bench, and the standing ovation lasted as he made his way to the far end of the ice for a faceoff in the right circle.
“To be honest with you,’’ he said, “when I came out there, I had a little water in my eyes. I love playing here. The crowd treats me great.
“I just wanted to fit in, and Claude did a perfect job of fitting me in.’’
There really are no slow immersions into the water at playoff time, not with a pair of Cup-craving franchises only 12 wins from a championship (make that 11 for the team in Black-and-Gold). A shift of 10 seconds can be as arduous, as perilous, as the one that goes 1:15. With towering Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger on the ice, 10 seconds can be an eternity.
“He hit me hard a couple of times early,’’ said Savard. “He tested my head. That’s nice of him.’’
But in the end, all the parts were left in working order. Savard ended the day with his head clear, his misty eyes dry, an all-important second-round win in his pocket.
He even left with the stick that he used to score the winner. Another unexpected circumstance. As he raced across the ice in celebration, he tossed the stick over the boards in celebration, fully intending for it to be a gift for someone in the crowd.
But when he returned to the ice as part of the traditional three-star celebration, the stick was back at the Boston bench.
“I guess somebody thought it was a mistake,’’ said Savard, noting he initially thought his head was playing tricks on him again. “But it was actually a gift. Well, thanks for giving it back.’’