OTTAWA -- Fresh off their first-round demolition of the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators had a familiar face back in the fold on Sunday.
No. 1 centre Jason Spezza practised with his teammates for the first time since undergoing back surgery for a herniated disc on Feb. 1 and says it was nice to take another step in his recovery.
"It's been a long process and a long season for me," Spezza said. "It felt good to join the team again and get some reps in. It may not seem like it and I may not play this year, but for me it's a small victory."
'The team has played real well and done real good things and the only way that I want to come back is if I feel I can help the team'
Despite speculation that Spezza could be done for the season, the fact the 29-year-old took part in a full practice was encouraging.
Spezza, who had been skating on his own before joining Ottawa's AHL callups for more training, says he had some "ups and downs" over the course of his recovery but made improvements over the last few weeks that allowed him to take part in a regular practice.
Whether or not he plays this season depends on how is body reacts. The Senators will take on the No. 1 seed Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs after Ottawa disposed of second-ranked Montreal in five games.
"I always felt there was going to be a light at the end of the tunnel and when that is I don't know," Spezza said. "But I'm going to keep pushing towards getting better so I can try to play."
The Senators' top centre played in just five games this season, scoring two goals and adding three assists, before being forced to have surgery.
Spezza last played on Jan. 27, coincidentally against the Penguins.
It's unclear whether Spezza will travel to Pittsburgh, but Senators coach Paul MacLean doesn't seem to have much hope he will play in the first two games of the series.
"He's a long ways away," said MacLean after practice.
On Saturday, the coach said he would love nothing more than to have Spezza back in the lineup, but if and when that happens he has to be able to slide right in.
"That's the important factor for me ... Jason has to be up to speed to where the team is playing," said MacLean. "And the treadmill goes pretty fast in the second round of the playoffs."
Spezza understands MacLean's thinking and says in no way does he want to be a hindrance to the team.
"As a player you have to be confident. The only way you're going to have any success if you come back to play is to be confident. I have to make sure I have confidence in myself that I'm going to help the team," he said. "The team has played real well and done real good things and the only way that I want to come back is if I feel I can help the team."
That's not to say Spezza wouldn't love to be a part of this second-round series.
"I wish I could play next game," he said. "It's all going to be how I respond. I have to push myself. That's why we're really going to try to push forward here the next three days and it might tell me it's not time to play or it might respond real well."
-- The Canadian Press