Savard answers call in overtime
Marc Savard's fresh legs helped him score the winner in OT
Savard missed seven weeks with a concussion, but played the hero in his return
Flyers goalie Brian Boucher was superb in overtime, stopping 14 shots
What is it about the Stanley Cup playoffs that seem to make fairy tales comes true?
Nearly 14 minutes into the first overtime period Saturday afternoon, Bruins forward Marc Savard, who hasn't played a game since he took that nasty hit heard around the hockey world in March, whipped a hard shot past Flyers goalie Brian Boucher, putting that happily ever after on the Bruins' 5-4 win in Game 1.
With the Flyers on the end of a long shift -- 1:23 in an overtime period might as well be two ticks from eternity -- Savard jumped over the boards, and tailed defenseman Dennis Wideman, who raced for a 50-50 puck on the half-boards. As it were, the puck happened to land there in front of Savard in the face-off circle, rolling but ready to get rocked. And without a moment's hesitation, the superb playing-making center took the shot. He went over the glove of Boucher, and as the red light flashed, so too did Savard's eyes. It was the sort of shot that breathes life back into a player, who was just trying to ease back into the rhythm of playing games.
From the start, the Bruins were going to have to work with a short bench -- winger Marco Sturm suffered a lower body injury on his first shift and did not return -- but Boston coach Claude Julien resisted any urge to rush Savard, overuse his star in his return. Through regulation, Savard was limited to just 19 shifts and 12:27 on the ice; this, clearly, was supposed to be a feeler game for him, a chance to get the legs moving and see how he responded. But with plenty left in the tank as the overtime ran on and on, thanks to superb goaltending on both sides, Savard showed the strategy paid off.
As feel-good stories go this playoff season, Savard's probably ranks high, but maybe not quite as high as Philadelphia goalie Boucher's. The journeyman netminder was once again spectacular in the 5-4 losing effort, especially in the overtime period, as the Bruins came out of the break attacking the net with everything they had. Though Boucher did opt to play the puck that led to the winning goal instead of freeze it, which would've stopped play and allowed his lagging team to change personnel, he did plenty to give the Flyers a chance, including a handful of stone-cold stops on Boston forwards Miroslav Satan and Mark Recchi. The goalie made 41 saves Saturday, 14 of them in overtime.
But despite Boucher's effort, the Flyers couldn't match their opponent's drive in the extra frame. Their resilience, however, coming back from a 4-2 deficit with a couple late goals, including a dazzling Danny Briere score to tie it at 16:38, has to be commended. Briere barreled through the neutral zone, skated through two defenders and put a shot on Tuukka Rask, who made the initial save. But instead of skating by on the breakaway he created, Briere followed up on his own rebound and scored the equalizer.
Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger has often talked about how his team has been playing no-quit playoff hockey since the Olympic break. They've shown up at what he calls "gut-check time," and even though they're missing key pieces from their lineup because of injury -- Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne and Ian Laperriere are all expected to miss this round -- they don't seem to be leaning on excuses; they're leaning on their veterans. Captain Mike Richards led the team with a goal and two assists, and Briere finished the game with seven shots on goal and two points. Defensemen Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle and Pronger each spent more than 30 minutes on the ice and had four points between them.
In the end, though, the overtime thriller came down to Savard, who had to watch as his team teetered on the playoff bubble without him. Boston, like Philadelphia, didn't earn its playoff spot until the last week of the season, but here they both are in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the sixth and seventh seeds fighting for the fairy tale to continue on.