BOSTON – Everyone on the Bruins had their own way of welcoming center Marc Savard back to the lineup tonight at TD Garden.
But the best thing his mates in black and gold did for Savard was erupt for eight goals in a rout of the Tampa Bay Lightning. After all, the pivot known as one of the league’s premier playmakers, didn’t get on the score sheet in 15:45 of ice time.
“I think that’s the first eight goals the team has scored that I haven’t had anything on [the score sheet], but I kept telling Claude [Julien] I was a presence tonight,” said Savard after his first game since last May’s playoff series with Philadelphia. “I felt good. Obviously I had some shifts where I felt a little tired and as the battles wore on.”
For Patrice Bergeron, who knows what it’s like to come back from a lengthy concussion absence, the way to welcome Savard was a couple love taps with the stick at center ice during warm-ups. For starting goaltender Tim Thomas, it was a last-minute decision to step aside after leading the team onto the ice for warm-ups and allow Savard to take a quick spin around the zone all by his lonesome.
“It was just a joke. Hopefully it helped Savvy relax a little bit because you’re probably nervous after a long time [off] like that,” said Thomas.
Savard said he thought Thomas’ move was “funny.” He also said he got a little emotional from the fans’ reaction. First there was the standing ovation for Savard’s first shift. And then during the first television timeout, PA announcer Jim Martin urged the crowd to welcome back Savard. In response to the standing ovation, Savard stood up and gave a couple waves Queen Elizabeth style.
All the pleasantries aside, Savard’s return was most important to the Bruins in that for the first time all year they put their expected opening-night lineup on the ice against Tampa Bay. They’re a team built around the goaltending tandem of Thomas and Tuukka Rask, and their triumvirate of top-caliber, two-way centers – Savard, Bergeron and David Krejci.
While Savard didn’t hit the score sheet, 12 different players did. Savard’s presence was obviously felt.
“It was a little different. It was fun to see we could keep rolling out lines and not worry about who we were up against. That’s good for our team, I guess,” said Bergeron.
Michael Ryder, who flanked Savard along with Tyler Seguin at even strength, finished the night with a goal and two assists.
“I think [Savard’s return] just gives us a little more depth, you know. We have our three centermen that were here last year, and then [Gregory Campbell] comes in and I think we have the four lines that we can roll with, and it’s just huge,” said Ryder. “We have the different options and then Savvy is big on the power play, and I think from here we’ve got to do a lot of the same things that we did tonight.”
There’s a morale boost too that comes with a player like Savard rejoining the squad. The bench is definitely noisier and that can only be a positive.
“I know that he usually leads the way when it comes to chirping,” said Julien. “He’s good on the bench; he really is. He talks a lot. And I know that when he comes to the bench, and anyone who’s played on his line will tell you, he’s always talking about different plays and that’s what makes him such a good playmaker.”
The Bruins had to trade Matt Hunwick for a prospect we might never see in the NHL in order to make room for Savard. If you look at it at as a Hunwick-for-Savard swap, however, it’s definitely a winner. That was reflected in the Bruins’ effort tonight.
Now it’s up to Savard to pay back those that welcomed him so warmly with some production in the games ahead, possibly Saturday night in the grudge match in Toronto.