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Big night for Spezza, Senators in finale with Habs

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
After having the milestone put on hold by illness, Senators centre Jason Spezza is set to suit up for his 600th career NHL game tonight in Montreal, when Ottawa faces the Canadiens at the Bell Centre (Getty Images).

All around the National Hockey League, it's a big Friday night.

Maybe even more so for Senators centre Jason Spezza, who'll take a second run at hitting an impressive career milestone this evening, when Ottawa faces off against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). 

It's the sixth and final meeting of the season between the Northeast Division rivals and one of much greater significance for the Senators (37-27-10), who are battling to maintain their grip on a playoff position in the Eastern Conference. The night also features critical matchups involving the two teams right behind Ottawa in the standings — the seventh-place Washington Capitals play host to the 10th-place Winnipeg Jets, while the ninth-place Buffalo Sabres are at Madison Square Garden in New York to tangle with the East-leading Rangers.

With Ottawa just three points up on the Caps and four in front of the hard-charging Sabres, it's a slate of games that certainly bears watching. But tonight also marks a time of personal achievement for Spezza, who will play his 600th career NHL game. It's a milestone he was slated to hit Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils at Scotiabank Place, but was put on hold when Spezza sat out because of illness. But the Sens' No. 1 centre is good to go tonight.

As for the impending milestone, Spezza admits some reflection time during the off-season might be necessary to fully appreciate the moment, which has been more than eight seasons in the making.

"We're pretty caught up in the season (right now)," said Spezza, who ranks No. 2 all-time behind only captain Daniel Alfredsson in modern franchise history in goals (221), assists (386) and points (607). "It's one of those things that, in the summer, you look back and you realize you're playing more games, you're reaching more milestones and you're getting more plaques and stuff.

"You look back and you see all that stuff and you definitely get nostalgic. It doesn't seem like all that long ago that I was playing my first game or in my first few years (in the NHL) or one of the young guys on the team. Time flies, especially in this league, and when you're having as much fun as I am. It goes by quick, so you try to enjoy it while you can."

There is nothing quite so nostalgic, however, for Sens starting goaltender Craig Anderson, who makes his long-awaited return to the net tonight after missing four weeks with a lacerated pinky finger on his right hand. Needless to say, he can't wait for the puck to drop.

"It's been a long time," said Anderson. "It's been a long four weeks and getting back on the horse now, and getting back in there, is something I've looked forward to since the day I injured (the finger). I'm pretty excited but at the same time, I've got to be focused and I've got to be ready to give the team a chance to win."

Added Senators head coach Paul MacLean: "Our expectation is that he'll play the way that he's played (up to now). He's been our No. 1 goalie all year and we expect that's what he'll do tonight."

Around the boards

Games in Montreal always bring a smile to the face of Senators forward Zack Smith, and with good reason. "I had my first NHL goal here (on Jan. 16, 2010), so it's something I'll always remember," said Smith, who'll open tonight's game on the second line alongside captain Daniel Alfredsson and Kyle Turris. "It's pretty easy to get up for these games. The crowd is always up in here and it's a fun place to play." ... With Spezza back in the lineup, Bobby Butler returns to the list of healthy scratches that also includes blueliner Matt Carkner and goaltender Alex Auld ... Tonight also marks the 100th career NHL game for Sens forward Erik Condra, a milestone winger Colin Greening will reach as well on Saturday, when the Pittsburgh Penguins visit Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) ... The Pens are the NHL's hottest team, with a 13-0-1 record in their last 14 games, a run that has elevated Pittsburgh to within one point of the Rangers in the race for top spot in the East.

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