SENATORS (27-21-4) at BRUINS (23-18-8)
Ottawa 5-5-0; Boston 3-6-1
Sixth and final meeting of the regular season between Northeast Division rivals. The Senators finally broke through in their last matchup, winning 5-1 at TD Garden in Boston on Monday afternoon on the strength of Daniel Alfredsson
's natural hat trick. Prior to that, the Bruins had won all four games this season, including a pair of 4-3 shootout victories and a 2-0 shutout with Tim Thomas
in net on Dec. 21 in Ottawa.
Credit the Senators for surviving an extremely tough stretch that saw them playing for a while without Alfredsson and other top forwards Jason Spezza
and Milan Michalek
, plus goaltenders Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott. Spezza thinks he might return Saturday from a torn MCL, while everyone else but Leclaire is already back.
"We're just going to wait and see," Spezza said after taking part in a brisk practice Friday. "It felt pretty good today and we'll see how it goes the rest of the day. It'll be a bonus if I can play tomorrow, but Tuesday is looking really good. Hopefully, (it'll be) tomorrow.
"I'm itching to get back."
Meanwhile, the Sens have responded to a five-game losing streak by winning their last five games. In the process, they have passed the slumping Bruins in the standings.
Mike Brodeur got Ottawa going when he stepped in at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 14 and shut out the New York Rangers in his second NHL start. Brodeur is now battling the flu, but Elliott has come back after a brief absence and won his last three starts, giving up a total of just four goals in the process. Michalek returned to the lineup Thursday after missing two weeks and scored one of three power-play goals for the Senators in a 3-2 win over the Blues.
"We were on the other end of a bad streak there, so it's nice to turn it around, but to turn it around with consistency," said defenseman Chris Phillips
, who netted the game-winner midway through the third period. "We have the right consistency right now and we just want to keep that going."
The season-long consistency Boston seemed to display in surging to the Eastern Conference's best record in 2008-09 has not carried over, and the Bruins find themselves tied with the Islanders for the last two Eastern Conference playoff spots at the start of play Saturday, just one point out of ninth. They've dropped three straight, including blowing a third-period lead at home in a 3-2 loss to Columbus on Thursday.
"I've always said that the big picture can be scary; take care of the little picture," coach Claude Julien said after practice on Friday. "And the little picture is, you know, to win the game tomorrow.
"Let's not overanalyze anything else and whatever happens tomorrow, one way or the other, we'll have to deal with it Sunday."
Alfredsson has four goals and four assists in as many games since returning, while Ottawa forward Peter Regin
has stepped up with two goals and three assists in the last two games. Veteran Alex Kovalev has a goal and five assists during a five-game points streak. Mike Fisher has two goals and five assists in the last five games. Phillips has a goal, two assists and a plus-6 rating in his last five games.
Michael Ryder has goals in two of his last three games for Boston, and Daniel Paille
has two goals and an assist in the last four games.
If he doesn't return Saturday, then Spezza is targeting Tuesday against the Devils. Brodeur was able to dress as Elliott's backup against the Blues. Leclaire remains out with a concussion while Jesse Winchester
is also on injured reserve for the Senators with a knee injury.
Forwards Marco Sturm, Steve Begin and Byron Bitz all missed the Bruins' game against the Blue Jackets, Sturm with a leg injury, the other two for undisclosed reasons. Forward Marc Savard
, on the mend from a partially torn MCL, skated Friday, as did Begin. Defenseman Andrew Ference
is on injured reserve with a groin injury.
Ottawa has not allowed a power-play goal during its winning streak, killing off all 18 opportunities by its opponents. … Boston ranks last in the League, averaging just 2.43 goals per game.
"When the team had lost five in a row, I was probably more anxious to get back playing for the team (just) to help," Spezza said. "Now that the team is playing well, I'm excited to get back and be part of the good feeling they've got going on.
"When you're out, you find the positive and try to motivate yourself to get back. A week ago, it was to get back to help the guys and now it's to help them even more with the winning. As a player, you hate sitting out."