The appearance of one of the Bruins top offensive players came after another one, Bruins right wing Nathan Horton sustained a severe concussion from a late hit by Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome in Game 3. The play ended both players' seasons -- Horton with the injury and Rome with a four-game suspension.
Savard led the Bruins in scoring in three consecutive seasons before his 2009-2010 regular season ended with a concussion from a blindside hit by Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins that was not penalized. Savard returned for last year's Eastern Conference semifinal, won by the Philadelphia Flyers after the Bruins took a 3-0 lead in games and a 3-0 lead in Game 7.
But the effects of the hit lingered, causing the center to miss the first 23 games this season with post-concussion syndrome. He played for the first time on Dec. 2 against Tampa Bay. Then, on Jan. 22 at Colorado, he sustained a moderate concussion when he was checked into the glass at the end boards by defenseman Matt Hunwick, a former teammate.
Savard hasn't played since, winding up with two goals and eight assists in 25 games.
Stanley Cup meltdown
Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa thinks the ice at TD Garden might be better suited for snow cones than slap shots.
Thanks to a Northeast heat wave, temperatures cracked 90 degrees in downtown Boston on Wednesday. The Canucks said the heat and humidity already had affected the ice at the pregame skate, turning it slushy and soft.
"The ice wasn't very good at all," Bieksa said. "The ice is very soft and chippy. It's humid here. It can hurt you when you're coming up the ice and assume the puck is flat on your stick, but it bounces away. We just have to be careful."
The Canucks are among the NHL's fastest teams, basing much of their offensive attack on speed and precision. Yet slushy ice is common all year in warmer climates or multi-use buildings, so Vancouver doesn't expect any major limitations.
"We've been in Nashville during the playoffs, too, and it was the same or hotter," Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin said. "We're in the middle of June, so it's going to be this way everywhere. I don't think there's many buildings with great ice right now."
Boston coach Claude Julien disagreed, praising the Garden staffers for their caretaking work.
"It looked really good," Julien said. "They made some adjustments to this building. I think it's been some great adjustments. The me, the ice looked really good. I think the guys were pretty pleased with it last game as well."
According to the Bruins, this is nothing after playing three games in Tampa Bay's St. Pete Times Forum during the Eastern Conference finals. And it could be worse: The old Boston Garden didn't have air conditioning, creating conditions better suited to a sauna in the spring and summer.
"We've experienced pretty bad ice before, so I think it's something we can handle," Boston center David Krejci said after the pregame skate. "I don't know what it's going to be like by the end of the game, but we can deal with it."
After Nathan Horton's severe concussion and 145 combined penalty minutes in Game 3, the NHL wants the players in the Stanley Cup Finals to calm down.
During the break between games in Boston, NHL disciplinary officials appealed to the Canucks and Bruins to keep their scuffles, skirmishes and taunting to a minimum for the rest of the series.
Both teams agreed it's a good idea -- although each blames the other for this series' physical, bad-tempered tone. Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa said intimidation is "their game, that's for sure, their bread and butter."
"[Boston] is a team that prides itself on being the tougher team after the whistle, pushing and shoving," Bieksa said after Wednesday's morning skate. "That's fine for them, but we can't get sucked into that. I know after the whistle, they're flexing their muscles and pointing out how big and bad they are, but before the whistle ... we know we're as good as any team in the league."
The mayhem got serious in the third period of Game 3. The teams combined for nine misconduct penalties and 118 penalty minutes in the final 20 minutes of Boston's 8-1 win, with a scrum after nearly every stoppage in play.
"All year long, we've played whistle to whistle," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "That hasn't changed in this series. All the referees have to do is call the ones who initiate the scrums. That's going to stop right there."
The clubs also have exchanged taunts based around Vancouver forward Alex Burrows' apparent bite on the finger of Boston's Patrice Bergeron in the series opener. Canucks forward Maxim Lapierre taunted Bergeron in Game 2 by pointing his finger at Bergeron's mouth, so Boston's Mark Recchi and Milan Lucic did the same to Lapierre and Burrows in Game 3.
"All that other stuff takes away from the game," Boston forward Brad Marchand said. "It's a very emotional time of year. We just try to keep our emotions intact and stay disciplined. They're a very frustrating team to play against, so we have to stay focused."
Boston coach Claude Julien said he regrets not telling his players to avoid returning Lapierre's taunt. He addressed it in a meeting before Game 4, saying NHL disciplinarian Mike Murphy "was absolutely right in sending us that message. We need to sell this game in a proper way."
Nash's Canucks ties
As a hockey-playing -- and soccer- and basketball-playing -- kid growing up in British Columbia, Steve Nash of course was a Canucks fan. The two-time NBA MVP still remembers the sting of Vancouver's Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers in the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals.
Now that his favorite NHL team is back chasing a championship, Nash has an even deeper connection to the Canucks' run. His sister is married to Manny Malhotra, the Vancouver center who unexpectedly returned from a career-threatening eye injury to play in Game 2.
"It's made it a very personal and emotional season," Nash told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
The Phoenix Suns point guard was set to attend his first game of the series on Wednesday in Boston. He watched Malhotra's comeback from a hotel in Baltimore.
"It was a great feeling to see him out there and hear the crowd chanting his name throughout the game," Nash said before Game 4.
Nash is preparing for an event involving another of his eclectic sports interests: his annual "Showdown in Chinatown" charity soccer match in New York on June 22. Basketball and soccer stars including Tony Parker and Grant Hill are scheduled to attend -- no word yet on any hockey players.
- Suspended Vancouver D Aaron Rome participated in the pregame skate at TD Garden with his teammates. He wasn't in the Canucks' locker room after the workout, however. Rome still hasn't publicly commented on his devastating hit on Boston F Nathan Horton beyond a brief written statement Tuesday. Rome's agent has said he's considering an appeal of the four-game suspension.
- Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was expected to attend Game 4. A Canadian team hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1993.
- Vigneault said the Canucks asked the league about the legality of Boston G Tim Thomas' two-handed check on Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin in Game 3. Thomas knocked Sedin to the ice without receiving a penalty while Sedin attempted to catch a loose puck. "We've talked to the NHL about him initiating contact like he did on Hank," Vigneault said. "Hopefully, they're going to handle it."
- Tyler Seguin, the second overall pick in last year's draft, took Horton's spot on the Bruins roster for the game. Seguin played in the first two games of the series but was replaced in Game 3 by the more physical Shawn Thornton.
- Keith Ballard took Rome's place for the Canucks and was in the starting lineup. In another move by Vancouver, Jeff Tambellini was a healthy scratch and was replaced by the harder-hitting Tanner Glass.