Special playoff years have special playoff moments.
The right place. The right time. Instant euphoria.
Some 55 days after beginning the difficult odyssey of recovering from a serious concussion, Marc Savard’s journey brought him to a spot near the right face-off circle with the puck fluttering in the air close to his stick in overtime.
Savard had one very clear, one very precise thought that instantly snapped through his mind.
“I just said as soon as this thing lands I’m going to shoot it,” explained Savard.
Shoot it he did.
Savard’s drive from the circle to the left of Philadelphia goalie Brian Boucher snapped into the net 13:52 into overtime lifting the Bruins to a 5-4 victory over the Flyers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals Saturday afternoon.
The goal came during a delayed penalty call on Philadelphia, with Savard perhaps surprising the Flyers by quickly firing the puck during the confusion regarding the penalty.
After scoring the overtime winner, Savard raced to the opposite boards and tossed his stick into the crowd before almost launching himself over the glass too.
“I mean it’s been a whirlwind for me,” said Savard when asked about the emotion of the moment. “Obviously I went through a lot of tough days and I don’t know what happened. I felt like when they tied it and we went in the room I felt like, “Jeez, I think this is how it’s supposed to be right here.”
Aside from providing a storybook emotional culmination to Savard’s return, the goal also let the Bruins salvage a win on a day where they built a two-goal lead on three occasions, only to find themselves heading to overtime against the rough and tumble Flyers.
“I guess we let up a little bit there,” said David Krejci who had given the Bruins a 4-2 lead with just 12:35 to play before the Flyers netted two goals to draw even. “We sat back and waited for them and that’s not our game. We have to keep moving forward and we didn’t do that.”
It was not always pretty, but the Bruins were able to cross a couple significant items off their playoff to-do list Saturday afternoon. They were able to open the second-round with a win, while also meshing Savard back into the lineup without a hitch.
A playoff series lead and the return of an All-Star center. Wave them towels Bruins fans.
Skating into NHL action for the first time since suffering a Grade-2 concussion at Pittsburgh on March 7 was not an easy undertaking for Savard, but the tone and tenor of Game 1 turned out to provide the perfect situation for his return.
With the Bruins grabbing an early lead and defensive matchups not directly focused on the skilled playmaker, Savard was able to make a seamless transition back into the B’s lineup.
Savard was greeted with a hearty ovation when he took the ice for a faceoff 1:15 into the game. He received a similar outburst from the crowd when he emerged for another draw minutes later.
“To be honest, when I got out (on the ice) there was a little water in my eyes at first, just because it was such a nice ovation,” said Savard. “I love playing here and that’s why I want to stay here. The crowd treated me great; my teammates were great to me all day.”
With Bruins coach Claude Julien and Philadelphia counterpart Peter Laviolette content to match their top centers – Patrice Bergeron for the B’s, Mike Richards for the Flyers – and the Bruins happy to skate Krejci against Danny Briere, Savard was spared any heavy defensive duty.
“I just wanted to fit in, Claude did a great job of playing me perfect minutes,” said Savard who ended the night with just 15:16 of ice time. “I felt as the game went on I got stronger.”
Savard was also absent from the first power play unit for the Bruins, instead he hit the ice with the second unit one minute into the B’s first man advantage.
Mid-way through the second period Flyers agitator Daniel Carcillo challenged Savard in the corner after the whistle by grabbing the B’s center by his throat. Savard did not appear to respond, but nonetheless received a roughing penalty when a scrum broke out involving Richards.
The Bruins ultimately emerged from the altercation with a power play. They made Carcillo pay for his sheepish attack when Miroslav Satan whisked a shot from the right circle past Boucher.
The original plan was to have Savard skate with Daniel Paille and Michael Ryder, but with Marco Sturm sidelined with a right leg injury in the opening seconds of the game, the Bruins were constantly shuffling lines and Savard skated with a hodgepodge of wingers.
In overtime, Julien moved Savard to a line centered by Bergeron with Mark Recchi on the opposite wing.
“As the game got into overtime, he felt that he was fresh enough, he hadn’t been overplayed, and we tried to throw him in different situations,” said Julien who was happy with the adjustments.
“Well, any time a guy steps into your lineup and hasn’t played in two months and scores an overtime winner, you got to take it certainly with a smile,” said Julien. “Marc’s got a good shot. Sometimes doesn’t shoot often enough, but when he does, he certainly can do some damage. And it was the right time. We had a delayed penalty called against him and he just threw it at the net. A great shot and a great way to finish.”
As sudden and perhaps as surprising as Savard’s game winner was, a Bruins fan provided Savard with a shock of his own. After tossing his stick into the stands, Savard was surprised to have the fan toss it back.
“I thought it was a treat for somebody because they’d been great all night, but that person threw it back,” said Savard. “They probably thought I made a mistake, but that was actually a gift for somebody. So thanks for giving it back.”
And there were probably 17,565 black and gold clad fans who would respond – “thanks for being back.”