As befits his most recent station in life – centre of attention – Ottawa Senators forward Jason Spezza could be found Sunday in the middle of a circle of his teammates, leading them in a series of stretching exercises.
Spezza, out since late January with a chronic back problem that required surgery, will make his playoff debut at Scotiabank Place on Sunday evening (7:30 p.m., Eastern, CBC, RDS) in a game his team must win against the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins if they are to have any hope in clambering back into the second-round series between the clubs.
“I just want to play well and help,” Spezza told reporters after the Sens’ morning skate.
The addition of Spezza’s offensive talents, even in diminished form, should significantly alter the Sens’ offensive balance; Ottawa coach Paul MacLean plainly hopes it will result in some badly-needed goals.
“He’s a legitimate number one centre,” MacLean said.
At practice, Spezza skated with erstwhile linemate Milan Michalek and rookie Cory Conacher, centre Zack Smith was moved to the wing alongside Mika Zibanejad on the third unit, forward Guillaume Latendresse appears to be the odd man out.
While Spezza is an important cog, the Sens will also need improved performances from two other front-line performers who also missed time because of injury this year: defenceman Erik Karlsson and goalie Craig Anderson.
It would also be helpfu for Ottawa's cause if 40-year-old captain Daniel Alfredsson were to break his four-game scoring duck.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is intently focused on putting the Senators in an 0-3 hole in the series – they are fully cognizant of the perils of giving hope to a plucky opponent, having been stretched to six games by the New York Islanders in the first round.
Speedy Pens forward Joe Vitale will miss Sunday’s game, although with centres Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin playing up to their considerable abilities, it’s a minor loss. Tanner Glass slots in for Vitale.
In goal, Anderson will face the red-hot Tomas Vokoun, who has won all four of his post-season starts this year, and will be looking to stretch the string out further.