Boston Bruins center Marc Savard has been given medical clearance to make his long-awaited return to game action, general manager Peter Chiarelli said Tuesday, and will play in the team's Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Chiarelli said that the 32-year-old Savard, who has been slowly making his way back from a Grade 2 concussion suffered on March 7, met with independent neurologist Dr. Jeremy Schmahamann late Monday afternoon and was given the final thumbs up. Exactly how Savard will be used is up to coach Claude Julien.
"[Schmahamann] examined Marc and had some further discussions with our doctor, and he's been cleared to play," Chiarelli said. "I'll leave it up to Claude as far as putting the lines together, who plays and who doesn't play, but Marc is ready to go and we'll see how his conditioning goes. I know, from talking to him, he's very anxious to play."
It's possible the Bruins' second-round opponent could be the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team against which he suffered the concussion on Matt Cooke's blindside hit. If the Capitals beat the Canadiens in a first-round Game 7 on Wednesday night, Boston will get a second-round date with Pittsburgh. If Montreal wins, the Bruins will host Philadelphia.
The Bruins have advanced to the second round for the second year in a row, though this year's team did so under completely different circumstances. In 2009, the Bruins were the top seed in the East and they swept Montreal in the first round. After 10 days off between series, they lost to sixth-seeded Carolina in seven games. This year, as a lower-seeded team that took longer to win in the first round, the Bruins are hoping they'll be able to avoid the pitfalls of last spring.
"I know we use the word complacent to describe some of the issues we had in last year's second round. I think part of that stemmed from the long layoff, and that complacency just creeps in naturally," Chiarelli said. "We're not going to have that long layoff now. Our guys also have learned from last year about better preparing mentally for the next round.
"The stuff that we've been through in the year, I think it's helped us. It helped us mentally and I just saw a consistent approach in this past series, a consistent effort. ... I just think that the group has learned collectively from last year. They're more experienced."
If early indications are correct, the Bruins' second-round series should begin either Friday or Saturday.
"[Savard is] an elite player and he's been chomping at the bit to play," Chiarelli said. "The fact that we were able to clinch and give some time for him to get acclimated to full practice is going to be very beneficial for Savy and the team."
Savard, the team's leading scorer last season, played in just 41 games this season due to injuries. He scored 10 goals and had 23 assists. In 18 career playoff games for the Bruins in the previous two seasons, Savard has registered seven goals and 12 assists for 19 points. His presence in the next round will be welcomed.
"He's a terrific offensive player and you've seen his performances in playoffs," Chiarelli said. "He really works on the two-way side of his game in the playoffs. It's like a trade-deadline acquisition. We're adding, obviously, a very good player to our mix for the next series."
So how will the Bruins utilize Savard in Round 2?
Last season, he centered left winger Milan Lucic and right winger Phil Kessel, who was traded to Toronto last September. Julien moved Lucic around during the Buffalo series and in Game 6 the coach had the big winger playing with David Krejci and Miroslav Satan, which resulted in the eventual game-winning goal.
"[Lucic] was reinvigorated [Monday] night playing with Krejci," said Chiarelli. "Again, I've talked to Claude about potential lineups and ultimately it's the coach's decision on the lines, defensive pairs and who is the goalie. With Milan, I thought he moved the puck well and moved his feet very well [Monday] night. He adds a different dimension on that line than Marco [Sturm] did. Marco brought the speed. Milan brings the body and physicality. Actually, I didn't mind what I saw [Monday] night."
"Having said that, there was some good chemistry last year between Marc and Milan," added Chiarelli. "Who knows what lineup Claude will come up with?"
Chiarelli admitted that he's not surprised Savard is able to return to game action so soon after suffering the injury.
"I use Patrice [Bergeron] as a reference point," Chiarelli said. "This is my layman's analysis: When I saw Patrice after his [Grade 3] concussion [suffered in October of 2007], and when I saw Savy after his, there was a big difference. They were both very severe, but as I saw Savy recuperate, a lot of things happened more quickly compared to Patrice. Still, there was some doubt at times because he still had that glazed look."
Savard himself even doubted he would be able to play this season after suffering from headaches and other side effects from the concussion for weeks after the hit. Then on April 9, he woke up and felt totally different, he said. He was amazed how good he felt and his recovery period became a lot quicker.
"When I saw that, I had a pretty good idea he'd be back if we could stretch it out," said Chiarelli.
Savard has been skating with the team and itching to return to the ice, saying recently the biggest hurdle he has remaining is getting himself into game shape.
In other injury news, Chiarelli said Tuesday that defenseman Mark Stuart (finger surgery) likely would not be available for the second-round series.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.