By Stephen Whyno
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — David Savard’s playoff beard has never been this long.
Savard never advanced past the second round in his first nine NHL seasons and is the only veteran player on the Tampa Bay Lightning without a Stanley Cup ring.
After joining Tampa Bay at the deadline, the grizzled defenseman has been a key part of a second consecutive run to the final.
“It’s been an unbelievable ride,” Savard said. “The last few years, they had an awesome, awesome run. It was just something really special for me to come in. I knew they had a chance to go at it again. To fit in and be able to help them go all the way, it would be nice.”
Savard has been a nice addition for the Lightning and perhaps the final piece the blue line needed to be complete. Along with rookie Ross Colton, Savard has also brought a fresh hunger for a first title that defending champions benefit from as a bit of a spark.
Lightning players and coach Jon Cooper hope they can get Savard’s name on the Cup along with theirs for a second time.
“He’s a popular guy in the room and so players are naturally pulling for guys like that to enjoy the success that we had last year,” Cooper said Wednesday. “They’re hoping he gets one. They’re cheering for him. There’s no doubt about that. When you’re with a group where pretty much everybody on the team has a ring from last year, I think you kind of feel a little bit left out. I know guys are pulling for him.”
After Savard and the Blue Jackets upset the Lightning in the first round in 2019, Tampa Bay went through Columbus on the way to the bubble hockey championship. The 30-year-old has since learned a lot about what makes this team click.
“It’s just the calm inside the room,” Savard said. “I think no matter what happens, we stay focused. You learn from guys who have been through that road.”
Savard’s road included playing 37 playoff games during almost a decade with Columbus. Game 5 Wednesday night is his 20th for the Lightning, so although he may feel a little left out from not winning last year, Savard appreciates what made that run happen and his role as the new guy.
“That group every time, they come back and they’re resilient,” Savard said. “Winning last year was great for them. You just want to be part of all that. I think it makes it special.”
Savard is now trying to complete his own special Cup run with a heavy heart after 24-year-old former Columbus teammate Matiss Kivlenieks died Sunday in a fireworks accident. He found out from former Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno in a text message the morning of Game 4 Monday.
“That was a brutal wakeup,” Savard said in French. “That was a good kid with a lot of talent who was going to be a part of the team next year or in the future. That’s extremely sad.”
JOSEPH JUMPS IN
Missing Alex Killorn since late in Game 1 of the final because of an undisclosed injury, the Lightning have turned to Mathieu Joseph to fill the void. Joseph hadn’t played since Game 3 of the first round, but has been effective in a limited, fourth-line role and assisted on Patrick Maroon’s tying goal Monday night that forced overtime.
“Like I tell these players, eventually your time is going to come and now it’s come and Jo’s making the best of it,” Cooper said.
Joseph played all 56 regular-season games and became the odd-man out when first-line winger Nikita Kucherov returned at the start of the playoffs. Killorn’s injury provided another opportunity, which Joseph has capitalized on.
“He’s done what we’ve needed him to do,” forward Blake Coleman said. “He’s been fast; he’s been physical. He brings a lot of energy into our lineup. It’s great when you can rely on a guy who’s got the experience that he does and the skill that he does to come in and do a job like that.”
ELSA LEAVES TOWN
Tropical Storm Elsa blew through Tampa late Tuesday into Wednesday but cleared up early enough that it did not disrupt morning skates at Amalie Arena, let alone Game 5. The NHL had been monitoring the situation in case it needed to be rescheduled.
Rookie Cole Caufield has three assists in overtime in his first NHL postseason, contributing to the Montreal Canadiens’ 6-1 OT record. That included setting up Josh Anderson’s Game 4-winning goal.
Caufield called this the “best hockey I’ve ever had” and, it shows. The 20-year-old is not at all nervous in the big moments.
“That’s just when you’ve got to focus a little bit more,” Caufield said. “Those are parts of the game that are really important and anytime you get out there, you got to do the right thing. I think we’ve been in a lot of those situations during these playoffs and you kind of just learn and grow from them.”
Caufield, who won the Hobey Baker Award as the top college player this season and was playing at Wisconsin as recently as March, put up 12 points in his first 19 playoff games.