But thanks to the outstanding play of Vladimir Sobotka, a question has been raised: What will be the cost of Savard's potential return on ice?
Of course, suiting up Savard will make the Bruins a better team, but taking Sobotka off the ice after his impressive playoff run will be nearly impossible for Claude Julien.
"He's been one of those guys," Julien said this week, "that we’ve really liked his game from the last couple of weeks of the regular season and into the playoffs. [He] got even better."
That's an understatement. From the onset of Game 1, Sobotka hasn't let his 5-foot-10 frame or lack of experience prevent him from bringing a punishing physicality to the ice. He was credited with nine hits in Game 2, six of which came in the first period. He also picked up an assist on the first Boston goal of the afternoon, and his goaltender interference penalty showed just how hard he was skating.
"He's physically involved, he's making great plays, he's skating, he's on top of the puck all the time, and he's playing with a lot of energy," Julien said. "When he does that, he's a good little player. He plays like a six-foot-plus player when he's skating and when he's involved."
Sobotka didn't slow down after that, either. He registered another six hits in Game 3, and made a beautiful pass to Dennis Wideman on the game-tying goal. He later went toe-to-toe with defenseman Andrej Sekera, who owned a two-inch height advantage but couldn't get the better of the young Czech. Although Sobotka was kept off the scoresheet in the Bruins' double-OT win on Wednesday night, he made his presence felt with another eight hits.
Sobotka's name isn't new to Bruins fans, but he's never had this type of impact before. He made a name for himself in the 2008 playoffs, when he replaced the benched Phil Kessel and scored two goals against Montreal. One of those goals came in the memorable Game 6 matchup at the Garden, but after that, Sobotka was largely forgotten, as he posted just five points in 25 NHL games last season.
This year, though, he's shown why the Bruins have utilized such patience with the 22-year-old. He's displayed the maturity that a playoff contender needs out of its role players, and he's certainly proven that he's worthy of more and more ice time.
"That’s what you do in the playoffs," said goaltender Tuukka Rask, who's been unbelievable in his own right through four games. "You need different guys to step up, and he’s been one of those guys."
No matter which line, no matter which position, Sobotka has been a consistent contributor for the Bruins, who now own a commanding 3-1 lead in the conference quarterfinals. It's the kind of versatility which guarantees that if Savard does indeed return, the Bruins become immeasurably better.
The best part of all for Bruins fans may be that Sobotka has done it by playing a tough, fearless style of play — something that never goes unnoticed in Boston. Thanks to a few outstanding efforts, the rest of the NHL is taking notice.
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