Marc Savard inches closer to return

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Boston Bruins forward Marc Savard stood at his locker at the team's practice facility early Saturday afternoon and was trying to catch his breath.

He had just completed his first full practice with the team this season since being cleared for full contact earlier this week. And, because the Bruins were short two forwards (David Krejci and Jordan Caron have the flu), Savard skated with the fourth line during the hour-long practice. He even stayed on the ice afterward to work on some contact drills with defenseman Adam McQuaid.

Savard knows he's getting closer to returning to game action, but he still needs to be patient.

"I won't be playing [Sunday], I know that," he said. "But hopefully soon."

"I've got to be patient and make sure I can jump in and contribute," he added. "I don't want to jump in to get my feet wet, I want to jump in and be able to play and contribute. So, I have to wait."

Savard, who skated on a line with Daniel Paille and Michael Ryder, said he feels comfortable passing and controlling the puck, and he's showing no ill effects from the post-concussion syndrome.

"I felt really good. I was actually surprised," he said. "The only thing was, when Claude [Julien] mentioned a drill, it took me a couple of watches before I got it right. Besides that, I felt great."

There's still no timetable on his return, but if this continues, it will be sometime in December.

"If it's early December, or middle, I'm not sure," he said. "Every day, I'm getting closer and doing more drills. I'm getting to work on the battles. I'm enjoying every day and just having fun."

This entire process hasn't been much fun at all for Savard. It began when he was on receiving end of a blindside hit by the Penguins' Matt Cooke on March 7, resulting in a Grade 2 concussion. Savard missed nearly two months before he was able to return in time for the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers.

He started to feel symptoms of PCS in August and immediately notified the Bruins. Savard missed training camp and did not travel with the team on its European trek to start the regular season.

He's been skating on his own for the past month, and underwent an examination Tuesday at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Savard was put through a battery of tests that lasted more than six hours before he was given medical clearance for contact.

He participated in the Bruins' game-day skate Wednesday in Florida, before his first full practice at Ristuccia Arena on Saturday.

"It was good to get out there on the line and get that tempo down," Savard said. "I felt good and got some work on the PP [power play]. I'm getting closer."

There's no way to simulate what it's like to play in an NHL game while practicing against your teammates. That's why Savard and McQuaid have been staying on the ice after recent morning skates to work on the physical aspect of the veteran's game.

"We'll always base our practices on the team," said Julien. "We're not going to go and bang the crap out of each other because Savvy needs some contact. There are other ways we can find it after practice. He's still getting better every day, so there are no issues there."

Similar to last spring, Julien wants to make sure Savard is able to compete and contribute before circling a date on the calendar for his return.

"It'll depend on a lot of things. The bottom line is, when he comes in, he's got to be able to keep up and be at par," Julien said. "You certainly don't want to bring a guy in who will struggle keeping up because that's not a positive for the team, and it's not a positive for him. That's what happens when guys are out for a long time, the minute they're cleared, people want them to be back right away, and so does [the player]. But you have to make the right decision."

When Savard did return for the Flyers series last spring, he made it a point to throw his body around a little bit in order to erase any doubts about the physical aspect of the game. He plans on doing the same this time around.

"I'm not worried about [getting hit]," he said. "I'd like to go looking [to hit somebody] first. Not that I hit a lot, but maybe that's something I'd like to test out, for sure. Nothing is like games, and I can't wait for that day."

In the meantime, Savard will continue to work after practice with McQuaid, or anyone else who would like to help out.

"We just want to see him get back as soon as possible, so whatever you've got to do to help out," McQuaid said.

During Savard's first day of contact Wednesday in Florida, McQuaid caught him with an elbow on the chin.

"I didn't mean to, but I guess it was a good test for him," McQuaid said.

"I don't want to crush him from behind, or anything like that," added McQuaid. "I'm just trying to give him a little bit of resistance and get him used to getting pushed. It's different because you can skate all day, but when you get into those battles, it's a different kind of energy."

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.