PITTSBURGH — The big line is back, as the Ottawa Senators hope to extend their season Friday night.
Senators coach Paul MacLean has put left winger Milan Michalek, centre Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson together again, hoping their veteran presence can provide a lift to the team that trails the best-of-seven series 3-1.
“The start of the game hasn’t been very good for us in the first four games (of the series) and maybe if we put our veteran guys together and get them on the ice early in the game, it can have a calming effect on the rest of the group,” said MacLean.
The move screams desperation, but the time does call for the Senators to do everything possible to keep playing. Following the Penguins 7-3 victory in Game 4 in Ottawa on Wednesday – which included a four-goal third period outburst by the explosive Penguins – the Senators need to win three consecutive games to advance to the Eastern Conference final.
Spezza says MacLean is looking for a “jump” from the threesome.
“I haven’t played with (Alfredsson) very consistently over the past couple of seasons, so it will be nice to play with him,” said Spezza, who has yet to register a point in his two games since returning from back disc surgery. “We would like to have a big game.”
While it’s an enormous task to try and win a hat trick of games against the powerhouse Penguins, Spezza says the Senators are prepared to do whatever is possible to get back in the series.
“The guys are excited for the challenge ahead of us,” he said. “They’re going to want to try and close us out tonight. We know we’re going to try and give our best game of the series, so it’s a good opportunity for us to play in a big game and we have our backs against the wall now. That’s when we’ve played our best hockey all year.”
With Mark Stone out to do an ankle injury he suffered in Game 4, the Senators have a roster decision to make. It will likely boil down to either Matt Kassian or Cory Conacher stepping into the lineup and playing on a line with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Chris Neil.
The other line combinations – at least to start the game – will feature Zack Smith with Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg and Kyle Turris at centre between Colin Greening and Erik Condra.