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Savard set for next hurdle

Today he’ll tackle battery of tests

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / November 23, 2010

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TAMPA — Today, in the city where Matt Cooke triggered his brain maladies more than eight months ago, Marc Savard will undergo a series of tests that should, he expects, prove he’s fit for full-contact practice.

For most of the day, Savard will be under the watch of Dr. Michael Collins, assistant director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program. Collins will gauge Savard’s progress from the knockout blow Cooke delivered March 7.

“I guess it’s quite a test,’’ Savard said yesterday at St. Pete Times Forum. “It’s like six hours long. He’s going to put me through some workouts and some strenuous stuff. When I’m at my weakest, he can see how my brain is and stuff like that. I’m interested. I’m really excited about going.’’

Last week, Savard passed a conditioning test that gave him the green light to participate in non-contact practice. Yesterday marked his first morning skate on the road with teammates. During the skate, Savard cycled into line rushes with Tyler Seguin and Mark Recchi on his wings. Like all the other centers, Savard also practiced faceoffs, with coach Claude Julien dropping pucks.

Savard, along with Marco Sturm, remained on the ice for extra conditioning after teammates went to the dressing room.

“It feels great being around the guys,’’ said Savard, free from the clutches of strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides, who usually puts injured players through the paces when they abstain from road trips. “Went out for dinner last night. Everything’s coming around. I’m feeling like myself again. It feels good, so I’m happy to be on the road.’’

Before last week’s conditioning test, Savard failed a previous one that delayed his return to non-contact practice by several days. But he is sure that after today, he’ll be cleared for full-contact practice.

“I’m feeling confident,’’ Savard said. “I’ve got no doubts. I’ve already done my other tests. I’ve got all the confidence in the world. So hopefully everything goes well again.’’

Even once Savard can take some bumps from teammates in practice, it will take some time for him to acclimate to NHL speed. He noticed that even in yesterday’s morning skate, when players are hardly moving all-out, teammates looked fast. In all likelihood, Savard won’t be ready for game action until early or mid-December.

“I feel great,’’ he said. “I feel like I’m obviously not up to speed for a bit. The guys are fast, so I have to get used to that. My hands feel fine. My head feels great. I’m just waiting to go. I really want to get going.’’

The Bruins must move salary before activating Savard from long-term injured reserve. They would be cap-compliant if they move Blake Wheeler and his $2.2 million salary. Considering the size, speed, and skill of the 24-year-old Wheeler — he’s also flexible, as last night marked his eighth straight game at center — he is drawing more interest on the trade market than Michael Ryder. The right wing is earning $4 million and will be an unrestricted free agent at year’s end. Wheeler will be a restricted free agent.

Seguin wings it Last night against the Lightning, for the second straight game, Seguin skated on the wing. But unlike Saturday’s 4-3 shootout setback to Los Angeles, in which Seguin skated alongside Wheeler and Ryder on the left side, the 18-year-old was bumped up to Patrice Bergeron’s line as right wing. Recchi was the left wing. Seguin skated 16 shifts for 13:55 of ice time, landing four shots on goal.

“It’s something we’re trying,’’ said Julien before the game. “We tried him on the wing with Wheels. It’s something we’re going to try. As I say every time that question’s asked, we can always go back to the old scenario just as easily. I think I’m going to give that a whirl and see how that goes tonight.’’

Before signing his three-year, $15 million extension, Bergeron sought assurance from management that he would be used in more offensive situations. Bergeron got his wish when David Krejci was sidelined. With Krejci absent, Bergeron centered Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton on the No. 1 line. Bergeron’s regular left wing had been Jordan Caron, but the 20-year-old rookie is more of a two-way grinder than the offense-first Seguin.

Gordon lauded Former Bruin Nate Thompson has found a niche for first-year Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher as a go-to bottom-six forward. Boucher has leaned on Thompson (3-5—8, 14:20 average ice time entering last night) for energy situations, penalty-killing, and defensive matchups. It’s a similar role Thompson filled as Providence captain in 2007-08, when Scott Gordon, recently fired by the Islanders, was his coach. “My first year pro in Providence, he really helped me find my niche as a player,’’ said Thompson, also coached by Gordon on Long Island. “Coming out of junior — surprisingly now — I was more of a skilled guy. Coming out of junior, he really helped me know what it takes and what you need to do to play in the NHL. Him and Rob Murray helped me with that consistency. It went a long way. I owe a lot to him, too, for giving me the opportunity in Long Island.’’ . . . Yesterday also marked the first road morning skate for Sturm, who is not as close to returning as Savard. “I did a lot of skating the past few weeks with John Whitesides,’’ Sturm said. “We decided to get it to the next level here, which is practicing with the team. Then we’ll go from there.’’ . . . The Lightning were without Vincent Lecavalier (hand) and Simon Gagne (neck) . . . Neither Lucic nor Horton recorded a shot. Lucic landed six hits. Horton had zero.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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