Tampa Bay Times
‘Maybe got the top prize there’
Lightning feel fortunate to get defenseman David Savard to fill their pressing needs.
TAMPA — David Savard knows the Lightning well. Playing for the Blue Jackets, the defenseman not only played against Tampa Bay often this season in the realigned Central Division, but also the past two postseasons. In some ways, he has seen the Lightning at their best and their worst.
Two seasons ago, Columbus exposed the flaws in a Tampa Bay team that had won the Presidents’ Trophy after 62 wins, ending its season with a fourgame 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 of last year’s playoffs. “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.”
The Lightning acquired Savard, 30, in a three-team trade Saturday in a move that should help them get back to what made them so formidable in the last postseason: strong defense and physicality.
“He’s gone through these playoffs,” said general manager Julien Brise-Bois. “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
At 6 feet 2 and 229 pounds, Savard adds size and grit to the blue line, particularly on the right side, which has been thinned by injuries. The Lightning’s top rightshot defenseman, Erik Cernak, just returned from a seven-game absence. Jan Rutta is on injured reserve and out indefinitely.
“(Savard) adds, for sure, a veteran presence on our right side,” 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. Julien went out and maybe got the top prize out there.”
Savard — in his 10th season and who had spent his entire career in Columbus — 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.
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 was a key contributor to the Blue Jackets’ penalty kill, averaging 1:47 of ice time on the kill this season. He adds another right-side defense option for the Lightning’s unit, in addition to Cernak.
“We know how much value (Savard) can bring to a team,” forward Yanni Gourde said. “He blocks shots. He plays physical, plays hard, he’s tough to play against. We’ve played (Columbus) 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 adjust to a system in which the defensemen are active on offense, but he will also be asked to stay true to what he does best.
“I think they have a transition team that’s really good,” Savard said. “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.”