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Savard Cleared to Play and Set to Return, But Should He?

Marc Savard (Photo: Icon SMI)

On Tuesday morning, Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli gave Boston’s faithful more than just the team’s 4-2 series win over the Buffalo Sabres in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as he announced that center Marc Savard is set to play after fully recovering from his concussion. Savard, out since suffering the Grade 2 concussion following Matt Cooke’s dirty – and still unpunished – hit on March 7, was cleared by both team doctors and Dr. Jeremy Schmahamann, an independently-consulted neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Savard, who scored 10 goals and added 23 assists in 41 games during the regular season, practiced with the team on Sunday, but wasn’t allowed to play in Monday night’s 4-3 victory over the Sabres, which sent the Bruins to the second round of the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1992.

Chiarelli likened Savard’s return to a “trade-deadline acquisition” and is excited about the return of a “terrific offensive player” who “works on the two-side way of his game in the playoffs.” Where exactly Savard will fit in the lineup, however, is yet to be determined by Bruins head coach Claude Julien.

“I’ll leave it up to Claude as far as putting the lines together, who plays and who doesn’t play, but Marc is ready to go,” Chiarelli told reporters. “Again, I’ve talked to Claude about potential lineups and ultimately it’s the coach’s decision on the lines, defensive pairs, and who is the goalie.”

Analysis

The Bruins offense, the second-worst in the NHL during the regular season, has almost come to life, averaging 2.67 goals per game, including games where they registered five and four goals, both wins. The numbers, however, don’t reveal the chemistry that has been developed over the course of the six playoff games. Boston’s top two lines, composed of (going left-to-right) Marco Sturm, Patrice Bergeron, and Mark Recchi, and Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Miroslav Satan, have accounted for 10 of the team’s 16 goals in the post-season, with plenty of missed opportunities unaccounted for. While Savard is known to be the best offensive player on the Bruins, dare Julien jumble the lines again? Where exactly would Savard fit in?

It’s unlikely that Savard would be put on the top two lines immediately, considering the amount of time he has missed and the chemistry that has been developing. Still, one of the 12 forwards the Bruins use will have to sit to make room for him. The most likely pick? Shawn Thornton. The winger averaged the least amount of ice time per game (7:44) by more than three-and-a-half minutes (Adam McQuaid with 11:20) and played in approximately four-and-a-half minutes in Monday night’s series clincher. Such a substitution would keep the top two lines intact, while grouping Savard on the third line with Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler, who have both been struggling offensively. Vladimir Sobotka, who has been anchoring the third line, would drop to the fourth line to play with Daniel Paille and Steve Begin.

With such an easy solution, there’s no reason Savard shouldn’t return, right? Not exactly. If the Washington Capitals beat the MontrĂ©al Canadiens on Wednesday night to end the series, the Bruins will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference semi-finals. Ignoring how the season series, a Savard return against Matt Cooke & Co. has the potential to become more about vengeance than winning the series. The sweetest revenge would of course be winning, but the lack of retribution handed out to Matt Cooke and the Penguins could become a factor in the series and not a particularly positive one for the Bruins.

Alternatively, if the Canadiens pull off the season’s biggest upset, the Bruins will be matched up against the Philadelphia Flyers. Should Savard really be skating around players like Chris Pronger, Daniel Carcillo, and Scott Hartnell? Even if Savard has been cleared to play, he’s significantly more susceptible to another concussion having previously sustained one. Is it worth the risk?

You can bet Lord Stanley’s Cup on it. Adding one of the league’s best forwards to an improving offense could be exactly what the Bruins need to make a true run. They already have the hot goaltending in Tuukka Rask, a.k.a God’s gift to the crease, the strong defense that is the only reason the team made it to the playoffs, and the momentum after upsetting the Sabres. However, the road only gets harder for the Bruins and Savard’s return should be welcomed by all…except the opposition, of course.

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