By Danny Picard
BOSTON -- It was his first shift since last May, and Marc Savard had water in his eyes.
He wasn't crying, of course. It was his own sweat that had dripped down from his helmet, clouding his vision and causing him to jump the gun early on his very first faceoff of the season, prompting the referee to boot him from the draw.
The TD Garden crowd didn't like it one bit and they made sure they were heard from, with boos ringing down from the bleachers.
But nobody was truly upset on Thursday night. The Bruins trounced the Tampa Bay Lightning 8-1, and Savard, who is arguably the team's top-line centerman when completely healthy, was back on the ice.
Savard, who has recovered from post-concussion syndrome, saw 15:45 of ice time in the win. To put that into perspective, center David Krejci had 16:40 and Patrice Bergeron 15:58.
Savard and Bergeron were the only two Bruins to finish the win with both an even plusminus rating and zero points, but Thursday night wasn't about what Savard would finish with on the score sheet. It was about taking the next big step in his recovery from a concussion that he suffered last March.
"I mean, it's been six months, so it's been a long time," said Savard after the game. "I was shaking off a bit of rust, but I felt like I made some good plays. I felt like there's stuff I can build off of, some things I can work on still, obviously. On battles, I had a little trouble as the shift wore on in our own zone a couple times. But I felt good, I felt strong. I got in there a couple times, tried to bang around, didn't really move anybody, but it was a lot of fun tonight.
"It's been a long road, that's for sure, and I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of people, and I've said that before," added Savard. "Everybody who's helped me out along the way, they don't understand how much they've helped me. The fans, too. Just tonight, to top it all off, they were wonderful, and that was one of the reasons I chose to stay here, and hopefully we can reward the fans back with a long playoff run."
Savard first found out he was playing in a meeting with Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien after Thursday's morning skate.
"I was told that everybody seemed positive about him, and OK with him playing," said Julien. "I think it was important to have everybody on board."
"I felt no effects tonight," said Savard, who believes everything was handled "perfectly" during his recovery. "Everything was great. Obviously, like I said, the longer shifts I got a little tired, but I really enjoyed myself tonight. I had a smile on the bench, had a lot of fun.
"I obviously didn't sleep much today," he added. "I tried not to walk around the room when I got here, but I felt like I was just flying around the room, kind of burning energy that I didn't want to burn, but I was just so excited. I felt like a little kid again. It was great."
He also felt like he was playing with a former linemate, and he wasn't talking about Michael Ryder. Ryder was on Savard's wing, but so was rookie Tyler Seguin, and Savard felt an immediate connection with the top draft pick.
Savard compared Seguin to former Bruin Phil Kessel . . . the same Kessel whose trade to Toronto opened the door for Seguin's arrival in Boston.
Needless to say, he liked what he saw.
"I can use his speed," said Savard. "He kind of reminds me of Phil over there, with his speed, so once I get used to it a bit, playing together . . .
"Like I said, I was a little rusty, a couple passes I got in the middle that I wish I would have got over there, but same sense, I feel like I made some good plays. My hands felt fine. My head felt fine. Obviously, just stamina, being out there for 45 seconds, I just have to work on that a bit."
Julien said Savard didn't look like he missed a beat on Thursday. He saw a player whose hands were still there, and whose skating was strong. And there was also one more thing that returned to the Bruins' bench: his mouth.
"He usually leads the way, when it comes to chirping," said Julien. "So he's good on the bench. He really is. He talks a lot, and I know, that when he comes to the bench, and anybody who's played on his line will tell you, he's always talking about different plays . . . that's what makes him such a good playmaker. He does talk a lot on the bench, and that's what you want. You want guys that are in the game, whether they're on the ice, or on the bench."
Savard got his first game out of the way. He still has some things to work on, nobody's denying that. But everyone's happy he's working on those things while helping them win, even if it doesn't show up on the score sheet.
"He is a big playmaker," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara after the win. "He can make things happen on the rushes. He can find people and give the puck to them. Obviously, on the power play, he sees the puck very well. He brings a lot of patience and is an offensive threat to the other team. You always have to be aware of him. You never know what you are going to get. Sometimes it is a beautiful pass, and sometimes it is a great play. It sure is nice to have him back."
Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comdannypicard