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Spezza back as Senators face must-win vs. Montreal

by Sean Farrell

OTTAWA -- The Montreal Canadiens have an opportunity to enhance their bid for home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Friday against the Ottawa Senators, who will have captain Jason Spezza back in the lineup.

As a bonus, Montreal can deal an all-but-final blow to Ottawa's playoff hopes and exact a measure of revenge for its first-round loss to the Senators last spring.

"It's not something we've really talked about," Canadiens forward Daniel Briere said. "You know it's always big games against Ottawa. Rivalries get created in the playoffs, mostly, so there's some hatred between the two teams, and it's a good thing for us at this point. There's only five games left, but we don't want to let ourselves go and just coast through the last five games.

"A game like tonight, knowing that it's going to be intense, knowing that these guys are fighting for their lives, we'll have to be ready. If we're not, we're going to get outplayed, so it's a good thing to have a game like this tonight."

Montreal and Ottawa have gone in different directions in the standings since March 15, when the Canadiens pulled off a stunning comeback from down 4-1 late in the third period to beat the Senators in overtime.

The Canadiens scored three times in the final 3:22 of regulation, with forward David Desharnais scoring the tying goal with less than a second remaining. Defenseman Francis Bouillon scored in overtime.

"Without a doubt it's the game that kind of turned it around for us," Briere said. "It's the game where we were on a little bit of a slide. We weren't feeling good about ourselves. We were wondering where we were going a little bit, and then those last five minutes kind of turned the whole season around. We went from battling with the teams just to get into the playoffs to battling for home ice now."

Montreal is all but locked into opening the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who beat the Canadiens 3-1 at home Tuesday. Each team has 93 points and five games remaining, but the Canadiens hold second place in the Atlantic Division by virtue of having two more non-shootout wins than the Lightning.

The Senators, who lost 2-1 to the New York Islanders on Wednesday, have six games remaining and 78 points, seven fewer than the Columbus Blue Jackets for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot.

Spezza returns after missing the past two games because of a groin injury he sustained Sunday in a 6-3 win against the Calgary Flames.

"There's six games left in the season, so there's lots of time left if we don't win these games to feel better," Spezza said.

Center Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who was recalled from the American Hockey League on an emergency basis after Spezza was injured, will remain in Ottawa.

Defenseman Jared Cowen and left wing Colin Greening remain sidelined with lower-body injuries.

Montreal defenseman Douglas Murray will begin serving his three-game suspension Friday for his hit to the head of Tampa Bay defenseman Mike Kostka on Tuesday. To fill that hole, the Canadiens recalled defenseman Nathan Beaulieu from Hamilton of the AHL on Thursday.

Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges will miss his 14th straight game, but he skated with his teammates at Canadian Tire Centre for the first time since he was sidelined by a broken hand.

Here are the projected lineups for the Canadiens and Senators:


Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Thomas Vanek

Alex Galchenyuk - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallagher

Lars Eller - Daniel Briere - Brian Gionta

Michael Bournival - Ryan White - Rene Bourque

Andrei Markov - Alexei Emelin

Francis Bouillon - P.K. Subban

Jarred Tinordi - Mike Weaver

Peter Budaj

Carey Price

Scratched: George Parros, Douglas Murray

Injured: Josh Gorges (hand), Brandon Prust (upper body), Dale Weise (upper body), Travis Moen (concussion)


Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Ales Hemsky

Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris - Mark Stone

Mike Hoffman - Zack Smith - Chris Neil

Matt Kassian - Mika Zibanejad - Erik Condra

Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson

Chris Phillips - Eric Gryba

Patrick Wiercioch - Cody Ceci

Craig Anderson

Robin Lehner

Scratched: Jean-Gabriel Pageau

Injured: Colin Greening (lower body), Jared Cowen (lower body), Bobby Ryan (sports hernia surgery)

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