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Anderson: 'I want to give the team a chance to win'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Goaltender Craig Anderson's four-week absence from the Senators lineup will end on Friday night, when he returns to the Ottawa net to face the Canadiens at the Bell Centre in Montreal (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).

Craig Anderson is finally good to go.

Four weeks to the day after undergoing surgery to repair a severed tendon in his right pinky finger, Anderson spoke about his imminent return to the Senators net, set for Friday night in Montreal against the Canadiens (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). It's a moment he's been anxiously awaiting during a recovery time that last nearly a month.

"I just want to get back in and give the team a chance to win, just like the other guys have done so far," the Senators' No. 1 goaltender said in reference to Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner, who carried the majority of the load in Anderson's absence. "I just want to make sure that when I get in there, I'm making the saves I'm supposed to be making and doing everything as best as I can to help the team win.

"It's been hard to watch, but the guys have done a great job of filling in and filling the role."

Bishop, who started the previous seven games (3-2-2, 1.95 GAA), will assume the backup role in Montreal. Head coach Paul MacLean said the Senators intend to keep three goaltenders on hand for the time being, with Alex Auld watching from the sidelines against the Habs. MacLean is hopeful Anderson can carry much of the load over the final eight games of the season.

"(Anderson) is the No. 1 goalie, so we'd like to see him play as many (games) as he can get into," said MacLean. "He's looked pretty good (in practice). He's moved well in the net, he's handled the puck efficiently and we feel he's gotten the necessary work in. He's been able to skate the whole time he was injured, so the conditioning part of it is not an issue.

"He's been back practising for the last couple of weeks, so I think he has a real hunger to play again. That's a good thing, that's a positive thing for him."

Anderson last saw game action on Feb. 22, backstopping the Senators to a 5-2 home-ice win over the Washington Capitals for his fourth straight victory. He'd allowed only four goals during the stretch, which included a pair of shutouts. But his season took a dramatic turn later that evening, when he severely cut the finger in a kitchen accident. It's been a long road back ever since.

"It was hard to say," Anderson said when asked if expected to be sidelined for such a lengthy period of time. "We didn't know how the recovery would be and we didn't know how quickly the strength would come back, and the functionality of the finger. It was hard to put a timeline on it, but this was the best-case scenario.

"We did everything in our power to push it so that I could be back as soon as possible."

Though he's practised all week with the team, Anderson still had some concerns about his ability to handle the puck with his stick. That final hurdle was cleared in his mind this morning.

"Today, I went out early and worked on playing the puck and everything was getting back to par there," he said. "I felt like I was shooting it pretty good, making hard passes and making the plays around the boards. Yesterday, it was something I was concerned about but this morning, I took care of that concern."

In Anderson's absence, the seventh-place Senators posted a 5-5-2 record and maintained their grip on an Eastern Conference playoff spot, though their cushion over the ninth-place Buffalo Sabres has dwindled to just four points. While Ottawa's goaltending has been steady in the last month, the timing of Anderson's return is indeed fortuitous.

"He's a huge part of our team," said Senators centre Jason Spezza. "Bish has been playing real well for us and Robin did as well. But Andy is a veteran guy with lots of experience who means a lot to our team. He's helped us get to where we are now and his presence will be welcomed ... just to have him around will be a good lift for the boys."

So, too, is the return to good health of Spezza, the Senators' leading scorer (29-46-75), who sat out Tuesday's 1-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils because of illness. But he was back on the ice with his teammates today and is on target to suit up Friday for what will be his 600th career National Hockey League game.

"(Spezza) is fifth in the league in scoring," said MacLean. "So when you're missing that from your lineup, you're missing a lot. Things revolve around what he can create and when he's not there, it makes it a little bit harder for the rest of the group."

Around the boards

After Friday's visit to Montreal, the Senators return home to face the NHL's hottest team — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins — on Saturday at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). Then it's off to Winnipeg to face the Jets on Monday (8:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) before a four-day break ... Lehner stopped all 41 shots he faced Wednesday night as the Binghamton Senators blanked the Bridgeport Sound Tigers 3-0 at Broome County Veterans' Memorial Arena, the B-Sens' home rink. It was the Swedish stopper's second shutout of the American Hockey League season, both recorded this month.

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