Jason Spezza is ready to return to action.
With his team down 2-0 in their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the talented Ottawa Senators forward revealed after practice on Saturday that he expects to play in Game 3 tomorrow evening.
While his teammates got roughed up in back-to-back losses in Pittsburgh, Spezza stayed in Ottawa to continue his recovery.
"I feel good," said the 29-year-old Spezza, who began practicing with the Senators last Sunday. "I've had a good week. It's been tough to be away from the guys, but I got a lot of good, hard work in. I hope to play tomorrow.
"I'm excited to have a chance to play again. I feel ready to play."
The Senators will make a final determination whether or not Spezza will play for the first time since Jan. 27 after the team's morning skate on Sunday. But all signs point to the big centre's first game since he underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disc. Even Senators coach Paul MacLean admitted that he expects to see Spezza back in action alongside sniper Milan Michalek.
MacLean also revealed that Craig Anderson will start in goal. Anderson was pulled early in the second period after allowing Sidney's Crosby's hat trick goal.
Spezza's biggest concern will be adjusting to the speed of the game after 3 ½ months on the sidelines, but he hoped his adrenaline give him the necessary boost to keep up.
It will be interesting to see how much the skillful playmaker will be able to contribute in his first game. He was out longer than teammate Erik Karlsson, and he had a different ailment than Karlsson's lacerated Achilles tendon, but he may want to seek advice from the defenceman on what he's learned from returning after a long layoff.
While Spezza was supposed to be back in action sometime last month, Karlsson made a remarkable swift recovery and returned after he missed only 31 games.
Karlsson seeing more time on the bench
But the Norris Trophy winner has not played well in the Penguins series. His coach has noticed and has not been shy in saying so - with words and ice time.
MacLean only used Karlsson for 15 minutes and 37 seconds in Game 2, least among the Senators six defencemen on Friday and almost 10 minutes under his playoff average of 25:14.
"I don't think he's played close to what he was playing before he got injured," Senators coach Paul MacLean remarked on Wednesday. "He was a dominant, dominant player, possibly the best player in the league at the time of his injury.
"No, his play hasn't been up to the level of that. And our expectation wasn't that it would be at that level. Our expectation is that Erik is going to make us a better team because of his abilities to move the puck and help us on the power play, to quarterback that.
"Our expectation isn't that he's the Norris Trophy [winner] Erik Karlsson. We just want him to come out and play and help our team win, and let his teammates help him."
MacLean was answering a reporter's question. But the coach's honesty did not do his 22-year-old defenceman any favours. He put the spotlight on Karlsson all week, and then the kid went through another difficult evening on Friday.
He especially didn't look good on the Penguins first goal, when Crosby danced around Karlsson to score his first of three goals.
Karlsson is not in pain. He appears to be skating well. But his passing and puck handling as well as his shot and his defensive work have been sub-par.
He looks like a kid trying to do too much. Maybe with Spezza back in action, some of the focus will shift to him and allow Karlsson to find his game.
But the Senators need both to their stars to contribute to the cause if they have designs on climbing back in the series.
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