Smarting Senators get boost for Game 3
The Ottawa Senators have finally received some good news on the injury front.
Centre Jason Spezza will suit up for the Senators when they host the Penguins in a pivotal Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m. ET, CBC, CBCSports.ca).
Spezza was initially listed as doubtful for Game 3 after jamming his leg in Friday's 5-3 Game 2 loss to the Penguins. He didn't skate Saturday or Sunday but participated in the morning skate on Monday.
"He indicated this morning that he was feeling considerably better," said Ottawa head coach Bryan Murray. "After he skated for a bit I asked him and he said he was good to go."
Spezza has yet to record a point in the series but was the team's top scorer during the regular season with 92 points.
And the news might get even better for Ottawa.
Murray also hinted that captain Daniel Alfredsson might also be return to the lineup.
"We're going to talk again this afternoon and see where we go with him," Murray said. "I'm not shutting the door on it.
"He's the boss. If he feels he can play then he's in."
Alfredsson hasn't practised with the team since taking a vicious hit from Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mark Bell on April 3. The winger suffered a knee injury and also an undisclosed upper body injury and was thought to be out of the lineup for weeks.
But Alfredsson skated on his own on Sunday evening, long after his teammates had left after practice at Scotiabank Place.
"If Alfie can go, he's going to go," said Senators winger Chris Neil. "That's his makeup and his character. It says a lot about him. He's a leader in this dressing room. If he's able to go, he's going to go."
Keeping Spezza in the lineup and adding Alfredsson would be a substantial boost for an Ottawa team that's struggled to find the net against Pittsburgh.
The Senators have been outscored 9-3 in the first two games of the series, but at least registered a pulse in Game 2.
Ottawa has fallen behind in the best-of-seven series 2-0 without the services of Alfredsson as well as second-line centre Mike Fisher (knee) and valuable forward Chris Kelly (right leg).
The Senators managed to rally from three goals down to tie the score in the third period, but Ryan Malone struck on the power play with just over a minute remaining and added an empty net goal to secure a 5-3 win for the Penguins.
Regardless of who's in the lineup on Monday, Murray has refused to let injuries derail his team's focus.
"We will just try to play at a top level," he said. "Uniforms matter, players don't."
The Senators have also called up Alex Nikulin and despite playing in only two NHL games, the young centre could see ice time in a crucial game for Ottawa.
Penguins staying on even keel
As the Senators have melted down under the intense glare of the playoffs, the Penguins appear to be quite content playing it cool.
But according to team captain Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh can't confuse consistency with complacency.
"They are going to be desperate but, for us, we have to match that," Crosby said Sunday. "I think we have played with a lot of will and a lot of want the past couple of games. We just have to keep doing the same thing ... We won the games but we deserved it and we earned it."
Pittsburgh has earned its series lead largely because of a deep, balanced scoring attack — led by sensational sophomore centre Evgeni Malkin.
The talented Russian has blossomed after moving to centre in his second full season and has continued his roll into the playoffs — leading the post-season in scoring with six points (one goal, five assists).
Malkin set up Pittsburgh's first three goals in Friday's win to build a big lead.
"He can make a lot happen," Crosby said. "He's a guy that makes a lot of guys around him better, too. From that position, he's able to set up guys and skate with the puck and he's carrying the puck a lot, so I think that's a natural spot for him, for sure."
Pittsburgh has also seen contributions from Crosby (four assists), forward Ryan Malone (two goals, two assists) as well as veterans like Petr Sykora (three goals) and Gary Roberts (two goals).
Even with those contributions, the Penguins still expect a stiff test on the road.
"We are where we wanted to be," Pittsburgh forward Marian Hossa said. "We are two games up and it won't be easy there, it will be tough, but we are a confident team.
"We know what it takes to win hockey games, everybody in this dressing room knows."
With files from the Associated Press