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Spezza feeling good day after double-OT triumph

by Erin Nicks

OTTAWA -- Ottawa Senators center Jason Spezza was his usual smiling self Monday, seemingly suffering no ill effects after Ottawa's grinding double-overtime victory Sunday.

The Senators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series, breathing new hope into the club, which had been down 2-0 in the series.

Spezza, who played for the first time since a herniated disc in his back shelved him on Jan. 27, had a relatively steady night, finishing with 18:40 of ice time and winning 60 percent of his faceoffs.

"I feel good," Spezza said Monday. "To play a double-overtime game and coming out no worse for wear is definitely positive for me and encouraging that I made the right decision [to play]. I took a pretty good pounding and played more than we had initially planned, but it's all positive and I hope to get even better as we go on."

Spezza received his biggest test of durability during the first overtime period when Pittsburgh's Craig Adams rocked him along the boards with a huge shoulder hit. The Ottawa center tumbled to the ice, but quickly returned to his feet and resumed play.

"It felt pretty bad," Spezza said. "I think it felt as bad as it looked. But I popped up and I feel all right. We talked for two days [prior to Game 3] whether I could take a hit, so that was a good test for me. It might be the hardest one I've taken in my career. It feels great that I can wake up this morning and feel like I can keep trucking along."

While pleased to be back in the lineup, the 29-year-old feels his overall game still needs some polishing after the long layoff.

"I think I can improve everywhere," Spezza said. "I felt more comfortable as the game went on; everything feels a bit different at first, when you start up after missing that much time. I'll watch the game tape and I think my legs will feel better, my timing will feel better, everything will slowly start to feel better. The quicker those things come back, the better it is for me."

Returning after an injury that required a lengthy recovery was enough of a challenge, but re-entering the lineup in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs made Spezza's comeback much more daunting.

"I can tell you it's not ideal," Spezza said. "I'd have liked to have a few weeks of [regular season] games before I was playing in games with such high stakes. I had to keep my game a little simpler [Sunday]. There were a few times when I would have held on and made plays, trying to get the puck on the net.

"It's going to be a different game for me. I'm playing a third-line role here to start, and I'm trying to [do well] on my faceoffs. As I feel more comfortable and evolve, then I'll just try and help where I can. But it's definitely a different situation than if I had been playing all year. I'm playing against [Pittsburgh players] who are at the top of their game right now, and I haven't played in four months. There are obvious challenges, but I feel like I can help."

After coming out on top in Game 3, Spezza and the Senators are eager to continue on their positive track -- the club resumes its series with Pittsburgh on Wednesday at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

"[Game 3], you enjoy it," Spezza said. "The guys were pretty excited, but pretty tired. [Monday], you re-focus [quickly] and hope you've caught [Pittsburgh] doubting themselves a little bit. We never had any intention of going away. It took until the end of the game for [Daniel Alfredsson] to score that goal, and we believed we could win in overtime. Those are just hallmarks of a good club. We know the challenges ahead of us; we know how good the [Penguins] are. But we feel we can compete."

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