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Ailing Spezza on the limp

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
They’re battling for goals – not to mention their playoff lives – with a roster missing some of its biggest offensive weapons.

Now the Ottawa Senators, already minus injured Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly, might have to press forward against the Pittsburgh Penguins without another of their top guns.

Centre Jason Spezza, who jammed a leg against the boards Friday night in Pittsburgh and missed part of that game, didn’t practise with his teammates today at Scotiabank Place. His availability for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final series Monday night remains a question mark.

“We’ll have to wait until (Monday) to find out,” Senators head coach/general Bryan Murray told reporters earlier today. “He couldn’t skate today, he felt, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Spezza led the Senators this season with 92 points, including a team-high 58 assists. His absence would leave Ottawa without two-thirds of its No. 1 line as it tries to overcome a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-seven series. The only healthy member of that group, winger Dany Heatley, skated on a line with Antoine Vermette and Cory Stillman in practice today.

“It’s different for me with different guys I play with,” Heatley said when asked about possibly having to play without his favourite setup man. “Tomorrow, it looks like it’s going to be (Vermette and Stillman). Vermy’s a fast guy who can skate, so it’s going to be more of an up-and-down game. Hopefully, we can get some things done.”

If Spezza is indeed out, he likely would be replaced in the lineup by rookie forward Alexander Nikulin, who was called up from the American Hockey League’s Binghamton Senators on Saturday. Three other rookies – forwards Cody Bass and Nick Foligno, and defenceman Brian Lee – are already seeing regular playoff duty for the Senators.

Given the growing rash of injuries, it might seem the odds are stacked too high against a Senators comeback vs. the high-flying Penguins. But there’s clearly a resolve in the Ottawa dressing room to not only extend this series but win it.

“Good teams find a way,” said veteran forward Martin Lapointe. “There’s no way you’re going to win a Stanley Cup and nobody’s going to get hurt. It’s called adversity and it doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup or who’s on the ice. You’ve got to do the little things to win a hockey game.

“It doesn’t matter if Jason doesn’t play. We can’t be thinking about that. We’re all professionals, we’re paid to play the game and some (other) guys have to step up. They’ll be put in different situations and different roles, but just take the opportunity and make the most of it.”

Added defenceman Chris Phillips: “You’ve got to go out and play your hardest. We’re not a group to put our head down and kick the walls and say ‘let’s hope everyone’s healthy next year.’ We’re going to keep fighting and we’ve got a couple of home games here to turn this series around.”

The Senators also don’t want to hear about their past, that piece of history in particular that says they’ve never overcome a 2-0 deficit in six previous playoff tries.

“Everyone keeps dwelling on past years,” said rugged forward Chris Neil. “This is a whole new playoff for us. It’s an opportunity for us to come out of this deficit, down 2-0.

“We need a win (Monday) night and it’s an opportunity for the guys in here to step up and be ready to go.”

As winger Cory Stillman points out, the Senators aren’t alone in their predicament.

“If you look right now at (all) the series, there’s a lot of teams down 2-0,” he said. “People are counting us out but they aren’t counting other teams out. So I think it’s important that we come back, rebound and play a strong game (Monday) night.

“It’s Game 3, (we) could make it 2-1 in the series and tilt the ice our way.” 

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