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Second Round

Savard finds recipe for success with Blue Jackets in playoffs

Defenseman contributing in all areas heading into Game 3 against Bruins

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

COLUMBUS -- David Savard might be wise to seek an endorsement deal with a company that makes ice packs whenever he and the Columbus Blue Jackets are finished playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Savard, the Blue Jackets bearded and burly defenseman, hasn't come across a hit he's been hesitant to give or a shot he won't dare try to block through Columbus' first six games of the playoffs, which already includes a four-game sweep of the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round.

 

[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Blue Jackets series coverage]

 

"When I'm physical and engaged in battles and boxing out and blocking shots, being physical down low, I think it creates a lot of my game," Savard said. 

His game is working well for the Blue Jackets in the playoffs. Savard has been arguably as important to Columbus' all-around game as top-pair defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, and that's saying something because Jones and Werenski have been darn good.

Savard leads the Blue Jackets with 22 blocked shots and is first in the NHL among players still playing in blocked shots per game (3.7). He already has seven blocked shots in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Boston Bruins, a best-of-7 series tied 1-1 entering Game 3 at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS). 

The physicality against Boston has been ratcheted up from what the Blue Jackets faced against the Lightning and Savard has answered, delivering six hits in Game 1 and four more in Game 2. 

Video: Blue Jackets even series with Game 2 win in 2OT

"I'm definitely not going to beat somebody just by speed, so I need to do my thing my way," Savard said.

Savard's impact so far in the postseason is an extension of what he's been delivering for the Blue Jackets since defenseman Ryan Murray was sidelined with an upper-body injury in February. Murray's absence placed more responsibility on Savard.

"He's built that way," Columbus coach John Tortorella said. "I think players can go either way there. Sometimes they get a little nervous when there is more responsibility put on them. Sometimes they just say, 'Now I've got to take care of business here.' I think [Savard] has felt that way. I think he has really simplified his game, but he certainly knows that there is more responsibility on his shoulders."

Most impressively, though, is how Savard has picked up his offensive game in the wake of Murray's absence. He had nine points (four goals, five assists) in the last 12 games of the regular season, including goals against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 15 and Montreal Canadiens on March 28 that gave Columbus 2-0 leads. The Blue Jackets won each game.

Savard also scored the goal that gave the Blue Jackets a 2-1 lead in a 5-2 win against the Nashville Predators on March 30. These late-season victories helped them secure the second wild card into the playoffs from the East. 

In Game 1 against the Lightning, Savard scored after intercepting the puck in the neutral zone and dangling around Victor Hedman, the Norris Trophy winner last season and a finalist this season.

His goal cut Tampa Bay's lead to 3-2. Columbus won 4-3.

Video: CBJ@TBL, Gm1: Savard tallies after nice moves on rush

"We haven't told [Savard], 'Let's up the offense,'" Tortorella said. "I just think [he] feels much more confident with his whole game that it's freeing him up offensively because he's played much better not just in the series but for the last six or seven weeks."

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Savard has tapped into his offensive game. He came to Columbus with plenty of upside offensively when he was drafted in the fourth round (No. 94) of the 2009 NHL Draft.

Savard had 77 points (13 goals, 64 assists) in 64 games with Moncton of the QMJHL in 2009-10. He had 43 points (11 goals, 32 assists) in 72 games with Springfield of the American Hockey League in 2010-11, his first pro season.

He had an NHL career-high 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists) in 82 games of the 2014-15 season. Three of his goals and 10 of his points came on the power play.

"He's got those skills," Columbus assistant Brad Shaw said. "They don't show up all the time and it's not a big part of what we're looking for from him, but that goal he scores in Game 1 [against the Lightning] we see three or four times a year. It works because he doesn't try it all the time. Everybody is reading another play and all of a sudden it's, 'Wow, that's in the net.'"

To see Savard doing all this now, playing confidently and comfortably in his 6-foot-2, 227-pound body, is a sign of how far he has come in his time with the Blue Jackets.

Six years ago, Savard's body was an area of concern.

"I've always been a guy who had to be aware of what I put in my body," Savard said. "If not, it could go the wrong way."

The 28-year-old, who described himself as being "massive" when he was growing up in St. Hyancinthe, Quebec, kept a diet that was leading him in the wrong direction at a time, the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, when he should have been trending toward becoming a full-time NHL player. 

It wasn't that Savard was carrying too much fat on him, he said. It was that he wasn't eating properly and staying in the proper shape to be a player Columbus could rely on.

It was impacting how the Blue Jackets felt about him. They let him know too, but Savard said he could already tell how they felt. He played four games with the Blue Jackets in 2012-13 after playing 31 in 2011-12. He spent most of the season in the AHL.

"It's not that they're slowly pushing you out, but other guys are coming in, young guys and they're obviously pushing to make the team," Savard said. "You see other guys getting called up when there are injuries, so you have to put it on yourself to get into better shape."

Savard did, and he has been with the Blue Jackets ever since, growing his game to where it is today, 489 games into his NHL career.

"I just kind of found what I needed to do to stay here," Savard said. "I'm never going to be the lightest guy, but I've done a pretty good job of finding my recipe to be able to move around while still being strong and playing the game I need to play to be here."

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