TAMPA — The Lightning know exactly what they’re going to get when they put a guy like David Savard on the ice.
The defenseman, who joined the team after a mid-April trade from Columbus, is a “steady presence” on the blue line, according toe coach Jon Cooper, and adds depth to the team’s defense in a third pairing with Mikhail Sergachev.
And after missing the first three games of the second-round playoff series against the Hurricanes with an upper-body injury, it was nice for Tampa Bay to have him back in the lineup Saturday.
Trailing 4-2 in the second period, Savard saw the team’s playoff experience at work as Tampa Bay erased Carolina’s two-goal lead and scored four straight for the 6-4 win.
“I think we lost ourselves for a few minutes there,” Savard said of the team’s mentality when trailing by two. “There was no panic. We kind of just settled down and got back to our game and obviously the power-play was huge there, and they’re just so calm and we get the first one there and we saw the team playing really well at the end of the game. It’s fun to be a part of it and to see how the team reacted in that situation.”
Savard knew the kind of environment he was jumping into this spring when he got wind of the trade from the Blue Jackets to “one of the best teams in the league.” In Columbus, where Savard played for a decade, the team never advanced past the second round in his five years of playoff experience.
Now, with the Lightning taking a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, Savard has a chance to make it to the league semifinals for the first time with a team that knows how to go the distance, having won the Stanley Cup in some of the most difficult circumstances last season.
“It’s awesome (to be in this situation),” Savard said. “I think as soon as I heard about the trade coming here, I knew how good of a team they were. And I think it’s something special they can accomplish by going back-to-back and it’s fun for me to be a part of it.”
In his Game 4 return, Savard skated for 13:32, logging two penalties and taking one shot on goal (which was the Lightning’s second of the game) along with two hits. It wasn’t a perfect night, but Cooper was pleased with his production after the layoff.
“It’s tough when you play a team like Carolina and the game’s going at warp speed,” Cooper said. “And for him to come in and contribute the way he did (was good).”
Added Savard: “It’s not easy to sit out in the playoffs. It’s never fun, and I just try to keep it simple, trying to be physical, kind of the same thing I was doing the last few games against Florida (in the opening round).”
Veteran defenseman Victor Hedman said these kind of games against Carolina make it clear why the Lightning went after Savard before the trade deadline. His physicality and “shot blocking machine” kind of play make him a good addition to Tampa Bay’s blueline.
“He’s not afraid to get up in the play as well,” Hedman added. “Always a good passer. It’s been fun to see since he got into the team… He’s fit in very well and he and (Sergachev) have done a great job together.”
Since joining the team April 10, Savard has played in 21 games, including 14 during the regular season. It’s given him time to adjust to new systems and learn to play off his gut.
“It took me a few games (to settle in),” he said, “but now I’m feeling more comfortable on the ice and I feel good through all of the systems and play.”
Savard’s stat line this postseason doesn’t scream productivity at first glance. In seven games, he is scoreless with only three shots on net. But he has blocked five shots and dished out 25 hits, fourth most on the team (eight behind team leader Anthony Cirelli) and second most among Lightning defensemen behind Erik Cernak (31).
And Cooper expects that as the series continues, Savard’s play will only get better. For now, the defenseman has “been everything as advertised” with the Lightning.
“In (penalty kills), he finishes plays down low, he blocks shots and we didn’t necessarily bring him in here to score goals,” Cooper said. “We brought him in here to help prevent them, and that’s what he does.”
If the Lightning-Hurricanes series needs a Game 6 on Thursday at Amalie Arena, the time is set for 6:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on NBCSN.
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