Spezza to return for Game 3

With his team down 0-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins and in need of a saviour, Ottawa Senators centre Jason Spezza will make his return on Sunday for Game 3.
Coach Paul MacLean also confirmed that Craig Anderson would be the starting goalie in this crucial game.
Anderson was pulled for backup Robin Lehner after giving up the first three goals in Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Penguins.
Spezza played only five games before suffering a back injury on Jan. 27 in a 2-1 shootout loss to – coincidentally – the Penguins.
He had surgery to repair a herniated disk on Feb. 1. The initial prognosis was that he’d be gone for 12 weeks, so his return is almost three weeks past that.
“The doctors said everything is fine and I’ve put in the work,” Spezza said on Saturday, after an optional practice.
“It’s not like I’m expecting to play out of the blue,”
“I’m excited to have a chance to play again. I feel ready to play.”
Coach Paul MacLean said one of Spezza’s linemates will be Milan Michalek, given their history, and the other will likely be Colin Greening.
“(Spezza) has a lot of history with Milan Michalek, the two of them have played well together [and] Colin Greening has played well with them in the past,” said MacLean.
“I would say that Milan and Jason will play together and (I’ll) find someone to play the other wing.
“Anytime you can have a player of Jason’s ability, that’s a huge step. He’s a No. 1 centre. He can provide offence from anywhere on the ice.
“That’s something we don’t have on our team right now consistently.”
It’s a tall order against a tough Pittsburgh team, but the Senators are obviously hoping Spezza is the same spark he was exactly 10 years ago on Sunday – May 19, 2003 – when he made his playoff debut.
With the Senators down 3-1 to the New Jersey Devils in the conference finals, then-coach Jacques Martin finally put Spezza in for Game 5 at home.
Spezza was the offensive player of the game.
He had an assist on Martin Havlat’s game-winning goal eight minutes into the third, and then added an insurance goal on the power play for a 3-1 win.
The Senators won Game 6 on a goal by Chris Phillips in overtime, but the Devils won Game 7 to advance to the Cup final.
Spezza has been skating for most of the last three weeks and there was some thought he’d be back to start the series.
But he stayed in Ottawa while the team went to Pittsburgh for the first two games, with MacLean saying he was still not close to being ready.
But it all came together through hard work.
“When you get on the ice and start skating, things can happen quickly,” said MacLean.
“He’s been working very diligently. That’s why he stayed here when we went to Pittsburgh. He had some quality time in the gym and on the ice to be able to continue his skating, and once you get on the ice and begin skating, you can progress rather quickly.
“He had to get through some hurdles there, and he’s gone through all of them.”
“He convinced us he’s ready to play.”
MacLean didn’t think Spezza would play his usual 20-25 minutes but said that would depend on how much power-play time the Senators have.
“We certainly feel he going to give us some help on the power play,” said MacLean.
“He can help us quite a bit there.”
But while he’s fit and healthy, Spezza is going to face an adjustment period. He knows what’s in store.
He’s been watching his teammate Erik Karlsson struggle to regain his form after being out for nine weeks with a lacerated Achilles tendon.
“The obvious challenge is the speed of the game and hopping right back into the playoffs isn’t easy,” said Spezza.
“You’re never going to be able to replicate playoff hockey in practice, but I’ve done quite a bit of bumping. You can never replicate big open ice hits.
I guess you just try not to get hit.”
“There are going to be some jitters, but I’m going to try to use my excitement as a positive. Timing’s going to be the toughest thing.
“It’s one of the better parts of my game so I hope it comes back pretty quick. I’m just going to go out, work hard and play smart. I expect to play well. I feel like I’m ready to help the guys out.
“One of the worst things you can do as an athlete is watch your teammates battle (and not be there to help).
“There have been some frustrating times for me in the process.
“Hockey-wise, it’s been one of the longest years in my career, just trying to get back. Now that’s in the past.
“I’m back. The excitement is that I get to play a game again.”
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who’s been sidelined for long periods a number of times in his short career, knows exactly how Spezza is going to feel.
His timing will be off and he’ll be out of sync, said Crosby, but he’ll be full of energy and running on adrenaline, especially coming back in an important playoff game.
“I expect he’ll be feeling pretty good out there,” said Crosby.
“After that amount of time away, and coming back in the playoffs, I think anyone in that position is pretty excited.
“He’s got a ton of skill and he creates a lot. He’s someone we definitely have to be aware of.
“Adding a player like Jason, he’s a big part of their team. He’s definitely going to give them a boost.”
That’s exactly what Karlsson thought, too, not surprisingly.
“He’s a world class player and he was probably our best player last year,” he said.
“To get him back would help our younger players and our older players as well. We would get a little bit of a boost offensively.”
STICK WITH IT
Karlsson had one of his worst nights in a long time in Friday’s 4-3 loss.
He was minus-2, victimized by Crosby, and played only 15:37, about half of what he would usually play at this time of year.
But he says he can’t second-guess himself.
“I’ve got to stick to decisions I make, even if sometimes it’s the wrong one,” he said.
“I don’t really trust what I’m doing out there.”

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