It's pretty incredible what the Ottawa Senators have been able to accomplish this season having lost so many key players to injury. It's possible that one of the most important players on their roster, center Jason Spezza, could be returning to the lineup in the second round of the playoffs.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray told Ottawa's Team 1200 on Friday that Spezza is skating with the team's "Black Aces" (the name given to players on a team's roster in the playoffs who aren't in the active lineup) and is inching closer to a return.
“He's skating much harder, competing much better and feeling much stronger,” Murray said, via the Ottawa Sun. “Skating with the Black Aces is a more serious involvement for him. He's got to practice a few times with the team before [coach] Paul [MacLean] thinks about making a change, but there's light at the end of the tunnel.”
Spezza has been out of the lineup since January after undergoing back surgery. He appeared in only five games this season, scoring two goals to go with three assists.
He's just one of the many players whom the Senators have lost for significant parts of the 2013 season, including Norris Trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson, starting goalie Craig Anderson and forward Milan Michalek. Despite all of those losses, the Senators were still able to finish with the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and just wrapped up their opening round series by knocking off the No. 2 seed Montreal Canadiens in just five games.
A lot of their success this season has been the result of their goaltending (Anderson, Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop, before Bishop was traded to Tampa Bay) as the Senators owned the best save percentage in the league (by a wide margin) at .933. Anderson continued that with a tremendous performance against the Canadiens, stopping more than 30 shots in four of the five games.
It's the reason why they've had the success that they've had while scoring the fourth fewest goals in the league this season. Getting a player like Spezza back could certainly make an impact in round two.
The Senators are still waiting to find out their next opponent as it all depends on what happens in the Pittsburgh-New York series. If the Penguins win (they own a 3-2 series lead over the Islanders), Ottawa will face Pittsburgh. If the Islanders come back and win they would play the highest remaining seed while Ottawa would play the other remaining team.