OTTAWA -- No team understands the emotional lift the long-awaited return of a star player can provide better than the Pittsburgh Penguins do.
So they are very well prepared for the impact the likely return of Jason Spezza to the Ottawa Senators lineup will have on the complexion of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
With captain Sidney Crosby having made a similar return on several occasions, and Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang doing the same, the Penguins are ready to face a very different Senators team.
"I expect them to be really energized and desperate," Crosby said Saturday. "Adding a player like Jason, he's a big part of their team. He's been around for a long time and he's definitely going to give them a boost."
Crosby has plenty of experience returning after a long absence -- he's done it in each of the past two years after being sidelined with concussion-related issues, and returned for Game 2 of these Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing more than a month with a broken jaw.
Crosby said he feels adrenaline will make up for any conditioning problems Spezza might have in Game 3 at Scotiabank Place.
"I don't think the first one's too bad, honestly. I think you're just full of adrenaline so you don't really get a great feel for everything in your first game," Crosby said. "The first one, the timing and things like that take a little bit [of time], but as for your energy and getting into the game it's pretty easy, especially coming back in the playoffs. So I'd expect Jason to be looking pretty good out there."
The effect Crosby's return had on his teammates each time he came back from injury was substantial, and Letang said he expects to see a similar vibe in the Senators on Sunday.
"You have a guy coming back with that much talent that brings a lot to your team, it's always exciting and it gets you going," Letang said. "I think it's going to be the same for the Senators. They have their best forward coming back in the lineup, so they're going to be jacked up for him and they're going to try to play for him."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma admitted the return of Spezza will require a few adjustments on his part, especially because Ottawa coach Paul MacLean will have better control of the matchups with the last change on home ice.
"We have played against him, we know what skill he brings, we know what kind of play he brings to the table," Bylsma said of Spezza. "We will have to adapt a little bit in terms of how we play against him and perhaps on the power play as well. We'll be ready for what we know is a real solid player."
Combine the return of Spezza with what should be raucous environment at Scotiabank Place and you have the makings of an emotionally charged atmosphere the Senators can feed off of. One thing the Penguins have managed to do effectively in winning Games 1 and 2 was getting off to a quick start, scoring the first goal at 2:41 of Game 1 and at 3:16 of Game 2.
The ability to start well becomes that much more important for the Penguins under these circumstances.
"We definitely don't want to get into an emotional game, up and down or even an after-the-whistle type of game," Bylsma said. "I think we're going to be looking at trying to come with the same start we've had in the last two games, and it's even more important in this game with the added emotion and added jump from being home. We've got to try to get to the offensive zone and slow this game down a bit."