WILMINGTON, Mass. — A spirited practice was over. Most of the Boston Bruins players were back in the locker room.
But not Marc Savard.
With his return from a 24-game absence just days away, Boston’s best playmaker kept working on the ice with a few teammates on Wednesday.
“It felt like the Boston Marathon,” said Savard, sidelined more than seven weeks following a Grade 2 concussion. “They made it pretty tough today, but I got through it.
“I gave everything I had. So it was a good test.”
His next challenge comes in the opening game of the second round of the playoffs. The Bruins will face Philadelphia and have home-ice advantage if Montreal beats Washington in the seventh game of their series Wednesday night. If Washington wins, the Bruins will meet Pittsburgh, the team Savard was hurt against when he absorbed a blindside hit from Matt Cooke.
But after Wednesday’s practice, Savard said, “I’m feeling great.”
He didn’t know the opponent or the date of the game. But he did know how he wants to play his first few shifts — make contact, not avoid it.
“I’m not a guy that hits a lot but (I’ll) try and get a couple of bumps in early and test myself that way so I’m tested and I feel involved,” he said.
Savard isn’t backing off after dealing with three injuries that caused him to miss half the regular season — 15 games with a broken left foot, eight with a partially torn ligament in his right knee and 18 games (plus six in the playoffs) with the concussion.
But he’s been cleared by doctors to play, even if his ice time might be less than usual.
“His conditioning is as good as it can be at this time,” coach Claude Julien said. “When you’ve been out for two months, it’s important for you to come in and be given a fair chance to help your hockey club and that’s what we’re going to try to do with him.”
The sixth-seeded Bruins advanced on Monday night with a 4-3 win over third-seeded Buffalo in Game 6. Savard resumed skating the previous Monday. Even without him, the power play was solid.
“A lot of it is confidence. You can see our guys right now are moving the pick and making the right decisions,” Julien said. “We’re not overpassing.”
The center is Boston’s best passer and figures to play on the power play. He led the Bruins in assists and points each of the past three seasons but had just 10 goals and 23 assists in 41 games this season. Last year, he had six goals and seven assists in 11 postseason games.
Boston can certainly use him after scoring the second-fewest goals in the regular season.
“He’s always been a big part of our team, a big part of our power play,” forward Milan Lucic said. “He’s shown that he can score in the playoffs. He’s excited. You can just see it in him when he’s out there. He’s just got a smile on his face that he’s back playing.”
Late in the season, the Bruins were struggling just to make the playoffs. Then they got hot.
They won four of their last five games with the only loss coming in overtime. They kept rolling by winning three of the first four playoff games — against goalie Ryan Miller, the men’s hockey MVP of the Vancouver Olympics. After a loss in Buffalo in Game 5, the Bruins returned home to finish off the Sabres.
“That’s where we started to gain our confidence, that last week or two to finish out the season,” Lucic said. “We carried it on to that first series.”
Goalie Tuukka Rask’s confidence grew in the first postseason action of his career. He played like a cool veteran, allowing just 2.18 goals per game in the more intense playoff atmosphere.
“I have no doubt that kind of stuff doesn’t get to him,” Julien said. “He’s very down-to-earth and he’s stayed that way so far.”
And he’s not worried that Rask will wear down by playing every game.
The amount of time off seems just right for the Bruins. The next series probably will start Friday or Saturday, a break of three or four days since Monday’s clincher. Last season, they had the best record in the Eastern Conference, swept Montreal in four games, then had nine days off before the second round.
Boston beat Carolina in the first game, but lost the next three and was eliminated in seven games.
“We allowed ourselves to slip out of the playoff mode because we had so much time off,” Julien said. “It took us a while to get our game back and when we got it back it was a little too late. … So, hopefully, this short break here is just the right amount of time.”
Savard already has had too much time off.
“I’m excited to get back with my teammates and just be part of the team,” he said, “whether it’s 12 minutes, 20 minutes, whatever it is. I just want to help out any way I can.”