If playoff hockey was one person, it would be David Savard.
The rugged defenseman plays the type of physical, hard-nosed hockey that marks this time of year, and his prodigious beard is always in postseason form, cascading from his face in brown waves that make him equal parts Civil War soldier and Yukon Cornelius lookalike.
Maybe that's why Savard was such a key part of the Blue Jackets' first-round playoff sweep of Tampa Bay. In exactly 24:00 minutes of play per game, Savard totaled a series-changing goal, an assist, multiple huge shot blocks, broke in a new defensive partner and helped neutralize what had been a prolific Lightning attack throughout the season.
"For the last six or seven weeks, I think he has played much better underneath the hashmark," head coach John Tortorella said. "I think that's strength of his game with the big body, just being in the end zone, his physical play, blocking shots -- he blocks a huge shot the other night in Tampa when they're revving up and score a goal and we take a penalty. That's the main part of his game. I just think he feels better about that and it allows him to go offensively."
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Oh yes, that offense. Savard chipped in late in the season and in the playoffs, notching four goals in an eight-game span down the stretch then putting in the goal that sparked Columbus' third-period comeback in Game 1.
It was an aggressive, confident play, with Savard intercepting a wayward pass in the neutral zone, crossing the blue line with speed, deking to the middle of the ice while leaving Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman in his wake, then roofing a shot over the blocker of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Video: CBJ@TBL, Gm1: Savard tallies after nice moves on rush
It was the kind of goal that made some wonder what got into Savard, but let's we shouldn't act like it's a huge surprise. Savard is an NHL player, first of all, so he's got legit skills; on top of that, Savard has always had a bit of offensive flair about him.
Back in his final season of junior hockey with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL, Savard was a point-per-game player, totaling 13 goals and 77 points in 64 games. His first year in the AHL, Savard was no slouch when it came to scoring as well, putting up 11 goals and 44 points with Springfield, then the Jackets' top farm team.
So he can score, but since he got to the NHL, defending his been his forte, though he has averaged eight goals per 82 games in his career, the same number he has this campaign. It was clear to Savard that while he had the ability to create offense, his ability to stymie it for the other team was going to be his meal ticket in the NHL.
"I was mostly an offensive defenseman, but I always played well defensively, though," Savard said of his junior career, in which he showed enough skill to be a fourth-round draft pick. "That was my main goal, but I always had that (offensive) role. Power play and stuff like that, coaches would put you in a chance to score and create some offense.
"Your role changes through the years. My game had to change too since becoming a pro -- becoming more physical, becoming a bigger guy. That's how I found my way to stay in the league, and if I can bring some offense, I'll try to do it."
Video: David Savard wants to keep winning
The offense is now a bonus for the Blue Jackets, but he's counted on for his ability to match up against foes defensively. In the series vs. Tampa Bay, the four Lightning forwards Savard was on the ice against the most at 5-on-5 were Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, Anthony Cirelli and Steven Stamkos. Savard ended up being on the ice for three goals for and three against at 5-on-5, a solid result given the competition, and he had key shot blocks on Stamkos on the power play in Game 2 and Johnson in Game 3.
Tortorella said Savard has taken it upon himself to step up since the Blue Jackets lost standout defenseman Ryan Murray to injury in February, and the 28-year-old was third on the team in ice time this series behind Seth Jones and Zach Werenski.
"He's built that way," Tortorella said. "Murr was really good for us. It's the best I've seen Murr play since I've been here. It's unfortunate he's banged up, but players can go either way there. Sometimes they get a little nervous when there's more responsibility put on them, or they say, 'I have to take care of business here.'
"I think Savy has felt that way. I think he's simplified his game, but he certainly there's more responsibility on his shoulders with (Markus Nutivaara) too when Murr went out."
And since it's playoff hockey, the man built for it has stood out, as much for his play as the bushy beard.