OTTAWA (CP) - Already playing their best hockey of the season, the Ottawa Senators welcomed Jason Spezza back to the lineup Saturday afternoon and kept on rolling.
The star centre set up Patrick Eaves' third-period goal that opened the scoring in a 3-1 victory over the Boston Bruins, Ottawa's 12th in the last 15 games. Playing on the second line with Eaves and Antoine Vermette, Spezza fit right in on a team that had played well during his five-week absence because of a knee injury.
"It was good to get back in the lineup and get playing games again," said Spezza, who played 14:19. "It's nice to get on the scoresheet too.
"I felt a little tentative at first but I felt better as the game went on. I thought our line, for never really playing together, did a pretty good job of using each other and getting the puck in deep."
Chris Neil and Antoine Vermette, awarded a goal when Marc Savard threw his stick as he skated in on an empty net, also scored for the Senators (29-20-2).
Neil's goal at 7:48 of the third ended an 18-game drought and stood as the winner.
"It was a big two points for us," said Neil, who hadn't scored since Dec. 12 in Detroit. "We wanted to come out and play a good game, especially after a bit of a break, and I thought we did that for the most part."
Glen Murray had the lone goal for the Bruins (22-21-4), who were outshot 36-30.
"In the third period we came out strong and had a couple chances but we couldn't score until they had a 2-0 lead," said Bruins coach Dave Lewis.
"We still had some chances after and there was a scramble late but we couldn't get it done."
Spezza was back in the lineup for the first time after missing Ottawa's last 14 games with a knee injury, but as expected, he wasn't part of the top line with Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson.
Those two played between Chris Kelly, who was solid in Spezza's absence.
Still, the 19,846 in attendance at Scotiabank Place sat through two periods before a goal was scored.
Eaves opened the scoring at 2:17 to give the Senators the lead. After Spezza tipped the puck into the slot, Eaves spun and fired a low shot that went through the legs of Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.
A little less than six minutes after Ottawa took the lead, Neil made it 2-0 when he converted a pass from Peter Schaefer and beat Thomas to the glove side.
Boston then cut it to 2-1, when Murray beat Ray Emery at 8:44 on a setup from ex-Senator Zdeno Chara. It was the first goal allowed by the Senators and Emery in more than 157 minutes.
"I think it has a lot to do with how well we play defensively," Emery said.
"Those last three times we played Boston we really didn't give them anything except maybe some power-play chances. It's good to see us playing that well defensively."
Just prior to the Vermette goal in the final minute, the Bruins had some opportunities to tie the game but were unable to beat Emery for a second time.
Notes: With the win the Senators have now collected points in 13 of their past 15 games. . . . Ottawa visits Montreal on Monday night . . . Boston has dropped nine of its past 12 games and host the New York Islanders on Monday.