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Jason Spezza cleared to play, will return to Senators’ lineup for Game 3

Harrison Mooney
Puck Daddy

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The return home for Game 3 will give the Ottawa Senators a little bit of a boost as they attempt get back into their second-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but with a 3-0 hole looming, the club would no doubt welcome a boost to their boost.

It looks like they'll get one of those too. After undergoing surgery for a herniated disc in his back and missing the last four months, Jason Spezza has been medically cleared to play.

He'll be in the Senators' lineup for Game 3. (Double boost!)

"I'm excited to have a chance to play again," Spezza said. "I feel ready to play."

Where he'll play remains to be seen, but Spezza has practiced on the Senators' first line alongside frequent running mate Milan Michalek, so our educated guess would be there.

That makes sense. Down 0-2, the Senators really aren't in a position to ease him into the lineup. Still, the question is what sort of impact he'll be able to have in his first game in 4 months. There's a good chance he'll see a lot of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the latter of whom notched a hat trick in Game 2. These are matchups he needs to win, and that's a lot to ask of anyone, let alone a guy that's played just 5 games this season.

But it's not like Spezza's not capable of it. His last game with the Senators was versus these very Penguins, and while Ottawa lost the decision, 2-1, in a shootout, Spezza was a large part of the reason they came away from that one with a point, finishing well above water in his head-to-head matchups with both of the Penguins' star pivots, and assisting on Ottawa's game-tying goal.

Spezza played the majority of this game matched up with Evgeni Malkin, while Kyle Turris saw the Crosby matchup (as he has for Games 1 and 2, and I'd expect he will in Game 3, Crosby's hat trick notwithstanding).

But when Spezza didn't see Malkin, he saw Crosby, and despite playing the majority of the night versus two of the best centres in the Eastern Conference, Spezza finished the evening with an even-strength Corsi rate (plus/minus for shots attempted, basically) of plus-9. Crosby was a minus-9. Malkin was a minus-6.

Spezza, who is a much better two-way player now than he was the last time the Senators and the Penguins met in the playoffs, also won 11 of 16 faceoffs versus this duo in that game.

If the Senators can return a guy capable of winning these pivotal shifts, their chances of staging a comeback in this series increase exponentially. But after four months on the shelf, one wonders if Spezza can be the player he's capable of being right away.

Game 3 goes Sunday. It totally should have been Saturday, though, which is the 10-year anniversary of Spezza's original playoff debut. That would have been cool.

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