BOSTON -- He's so close, the Bruins can taste it.
Well, at least they can hear it.
After all, even though he's more than six weeks removed from his last game action, center Marc Savard can't ever keep quiet around his brethren in black and gold. Since he started practicing again, he has been around his ''boys'' and has made sure to stay in their ears about their focus and determination.
And now the Bruins, who have been without their star playmaker since a Grade 2 concussion knocked him out of the game and the lineup March 7, will get No. 91 back in time to take on Pittsburgh or Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinal round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. General manager Peter Chiarelli said Tuesday that Savard has been cleared to return and would play in the second round.
"He's a great player for us," winger and good friend Milan Lucic said after the Bruins finished their first-round series with Buffalo with a 4-3 Game 6 win Monday night. "Obviously he's had the toughest road out of anyone here this year, for sure, with going down with the three injuries. But he's a great player, he wants to play, he wants to win and hopefully he's back in there."
The last hurdle for Savard's return was a neuropsych test he took and passed Monday afternoon. Officially, the results hadn't yet reached the Bruins as of coach Claude Julien's postgame media conference. But on the ninth floor of TD Garden during the game, Savard was seen receiving a hearty slap on the back from a grinning Chiarelli. The Bruins' general manager looked like a real-life Cheshire Cat. And then, as he retreated to his seat with the rest of the Bruins' scratches, Savard was asked whether he got good news.
"Yep," he said as he sped to the curtained-off area where only team personnel are allowed to reside during a game.
Savard is going to be back, and the Bruins are going to be a handful for either the Flyers or Penguins.
Outside of a sweep or five-game win over the Sabres, the Bruins couldn't have asked for a more perfect scenario. Had they dropped Game 6, the decision to play Savard in a do-or-die Game 7 would have been difficult. On the one hand, you can't sit the best pair of passing hands on your club and the orchestrator of your power play with the season on the line. On the other hand, a Game 7 features the intensity of the playoffs to the 10th power. How would a player out more than six weeks after a head injury respond, if Game 7 was also his return? And would the Bruins have even wanted to find out?
Now that's all out the window. The Bruins proved they could score on the power play without Savard, as they added two more goals to run their man-advantage total for the series to six goals over 22 opportunities. They proved they could win key faceoffs without him, by battling to almost a tie with Buffalo through five games and then dominating 62 percent to 38 percent in the final game.
Heck, the Bruins might not need Savard.
"I would think he'll be ready for Game 1," defenseman Dennis Wideman said Monday night. "Getting him back should help our power play even more."
Now, there's an understatement. Savard's return will turn the Bruins, suddenly an offensive juggernaut after finishing at the bottom of the league during the regular season, into a four-line scoring squad. Already their three centers -- David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Vladimir Sobotka -- have established that the postseason is their playground. They're all playing at the top of their games now. You bump them each down a peg on the depth chart and insert Savard on one of the top lines, and now you've got a team that's a matchup nightmare.
A handful of Bruins players, including Wideman, Lucic and Zdeno Chara, all said they never thought about a scenario in which Savard would have returned for Game 6. Now they can let themselves imagine a Game 1 return for a few days before they inevitably live it. They've made good on their desire to keep the season going long enough for Savard to rejoin their cause.
Savard will soon be able to help the Bruins with more than just encouragement to his teammates. He should be dangling on a half-wall in an NHL arena near you soon, trying to push the Bruins even deeper into the postseason.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.