TAMPA — David Savard knows the Lightning well. Playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets, he not only played Tampa Bay often this season in the realigned Central Division, but also the past two postseasons. In some ways, he’s seen the Lightning at their best and their worst.
Two seasons ago, Columbus exposed the flaws in a Lightning team that had just won the Presidents’ Trophy, ending Tampa Bay’s season with a four-game sweep in the first round of the playoffs. Last year, he saw how well the Lightning had morphed into a physical, defensive-minded team as they eliminated the Blue Jackets in the first round on their way to winning the Stanley Cup.
“I just remember talking to a few guys on our team, and we were like, ‘It felt like a different team,’” Savard said. “The way they were hard to compete against, how hard they were committed to play defensively, and I felt it was the same thing this year. So that’s why I think I’m so excited. I know they have the recipe to win again. And I’m just excited to be part of it.”
This week’s acquisition of Savard, a 30-year-old who played all 10 of his NHL seasons in Columbus, should help the Lightning get back to what made them so formidable last postseason: strong defense and physicality.
“He’s gone through these playoffs,” said Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois. “He played essentially two rounds last year and two rounds the year before. He knows what to expect. He knows how hard this is. He knows not to take anything for granted. So I just think he’s just an amazing fit for what our team needed.”
At 6-feet-2, 229 pounds, Savard adds size and grit to the Lightning blue line, particularly on the right side, which has been thinned by injuries. The team’s top right-shot defenseman, Erik Cernak, just returned from a seven-game absence. Jan Rutta is currently on IR and out indefinitely.
“(Savard) adds, for sure, a veteran presence on our right side,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s a guy who has played in some big playoff games. He’s got size, he’s a righty, and he’s a gamer. I think that’s a really good add for our squad, and I think he’s hungry to make a playoff run. If there was a part we’re looking to to add a little depth, that was on the back end and. Julien went out and maybe got the top prize out there.”
Savard will help the Lightning in several ways defensively. He’s one of the league’s best when it comes to being a big body down low and blocking shots. Entering Sunday, he ranked fourth in the NHL with 89 blocked shots. Last season, he was second with 163.
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Savard’s 95 hits this season with Columbus would lead the Lightning, who are paced by Barclay Goodrow (78) and Blake Coleman (70), two players Tampa Bay acquired at last year’s trade deadline to add grit.
Savard also has been a key contributor to the Blue Jackets’ penalty-kill unit, averaging 1:47 of ice time on the PK this season. He adds another right-side defense option for the unit, in addition to Cernak.
“We know how much value he can bring to a team,” Lightning forward Yanni Gourde said. “He blocks shots. He plays physical, plays hard, he’s tough to play against. We’ve played them a lot, and it’s definitely exciting to have him come on the team.”
Now Savard, whose Columbus teams didn’t advance beyond the second round in five postseason appearances, has his best shot at a Stanley Cup.
“They’re so talented, and the way they compete every night you know it’s always going to be a battle when you play them,” Savard said of the Lightning. “I’m excited to be on the other side, and I think they have to have a team ready to go for another run and go for the Stanley Cup, and that’s all you dream of as a player, to have that chance to win.”
Savard will have to get adjusted to a new system. The Lightning’s defensemen are active on the offensive end, but he will also be asked to stay true to what he does best.
“I’m just going to try to do my best to play physical and make sure I kind of help the team get back on offense,” Savard said. “I think they have a transition team that’s really good. You’ve just got to move the puck to the forwards and kind of jump after, and I think it’s something that I can do and try to play well defensively and be physical.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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