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Savard just wants to play, not be a savior

by John McGourty
BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins, who finished last in the NHL in goals scored during the regular season, will get a boost in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN, RDS) against the Philadelphia Flyers with the return of center Marc Savard.

Savard suffered a concussion March 7 when he was hit in the head by Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke. He began skating on his own about 10 days ago and has been practicing with the team for nearly a week. Savard wanted to play in Game 6 of the first-round series against the Buffalo Sabres, but was held out by the team.

It's only been about two weeks since he woke up feeling good and concussion symptom-free.

"I feel excellent. Every day has been building and today was by far the best I felt out there. Wind-wise and leg-wise, I'm almost up to par. The battles in the corner are going to be the toughest thing. Once I get battling, I have to keep my shifts short early, keep my energy up and go from there." -- Marc Savard

"I didn't know if it was going to come back, with all I went through," Savard said. "When I started to feel better, there's always that hope. I really wanted to get into Game 6, but it was for the best and now I feel great."

Savard led the Bruins in scoring in each of his first three seasons with the team after arriving as a free agent in 2006, but he was limited to 41 games this season by a broken left foot in October, a right knee injury in January and the concussion. He had 10 goals and 33 points this season.

"I feel excellent. Every day has been building and today was by far the best I felt out there," Savard said Friday after practice at TD Garden. "Wind-wise and leg-wise, I'm almost up to par. The battles in the corner are going to be the toughest thing. Once I get battling, I have to keep my shifts short early, keep my energy up and go from there.

"I'm not looking to be any kind of a savior because the guys have been playing great. I just want to fit in. It's probably going to take some time. I've been out for a long time and I only played 40 games this season with a lot of other injuries. I feel fresh and that's a good thing. I just want to get out and contribute in any way I can."

Savard and the Bruins know the Flyers led the NHL during the regular season in minors and majors. But the Bruins aren't going to back down physically. Boston and Philadelphia both averaged 17.2 penalty minutes per game in the first round of the playoffs.

"I'm excited. I like it when it's physical," Savard said. "I feel I excel more that way, when you get into a game and get bumped around. I can't wait for it to start. They're a great hockey club. We've played these guys straight up, 2-1-1, so it's really two wins each because of overtimes. They're a good hockey team, physical, and we're going to have to be at our best."

Savard practiced and likely will play with Daniel Paille on his left wing and Michael Ryder on his right. Savard and Ryder have had good chemistry together in the past, and Paille, a rugged player, is looking forward to playing with them.

"Marc's a great heads-up player. He knows what to do with the puck and he's aware where everybody is at all times," Paille said. "I'm going to try to be open as much as possible and find myself in front of the net at times. If I keep moving my feet, he'll find me or Michael."

It's a line with the classic elements -- a shooter in Ryder, a playmaker in Savard and a grinder in Paille.

"It's my job to win battles in our defensive zone and get him the puck so he can do what he does," Paille said. "I have to do that in the offensive zone, too. That's pretty much what I do best, battle in the corners so hopefully I can help with that."

Bruins coach Claude Julien said he has to be careful in how he utilizes Savard.

"It's the coach's job to look and see how he's doing," Julien said. "First of all, managing the ice (time) the proper way. That doesn't mean giving him a little ice time. It means managing it properly. If you see that he's going well, you utilize him. If you see that he needs a break, you can skip a shift here and there.

"Everything depends on how he's going to come out and play and you have to give him that opportunity. At the same, we have to give him the opportunity to perform in the best situation possible. We'll gauge it. We'll go along with it. He's been skating now for a week and a half, skating hard, so he's in pretty good shape. Game shape is another thing and you can only get in game shape by playing in games."

The Bruins have practiced the last two days with a fourth line of Blake Wheeler, Steve Begin and Vladimir Sobotka. It's likely Wheeler will stay in the lineup because he's one of the chief penalty killers that stopped Buffalo on all 19 power plays. But it's a tough decision because Shawn Thornton can go toe-to-toe with the Flyers' tough guys -- Daniel Carcillo, Scott Hartnell and captain Mike Richards.

Julien bristled when asked about choosing Wheeler over Thornton.

"I didn't know I made that decision," he said. "I think there's an assumption there. We'll see what we decide. That decision hasn't been made. I guess I would consider us team-tough. I don't see any issues either way we go, and if there is, they'll be addressed."

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