center Jason Spezza, who used to play as if he were saving his 6'3",
213-pound body to donate it to science, dropped to one knee and took a Patrik
Elias shot in the chest with six minutes to go in Game 3 against the New Jersey
Devils last week. Although the shot block was widely reported, the press might
as well have said that a pig had been spotted flying over Parliament in
Canada's capital. Indeed when Chris Stevenson of the Ottawa Sun asked Senators
players if they had actually seen the block, forward Chris Kelly replied,
"No. Like the Loch Ness Monster, you hear about it but you never see
Following a win in
the next game-- Ottawa eventually would brush aside the Devils in a 3--2 win in
Game 5 last Saturday to advance to the Eastern Conference finals against the
Buffalo Sabres-- Kelly summoned the reporter and stage whispered, "I've seen
Nessie." Spezza, who had a mere 14 blocks during the regular season,
stopped two in that match. "He's more than fine with the puck,"
Senators coach Bryan Murray says of Spezza, whose 1.3 points-per-game average
was fifth in the NHL. "Without the puck, he's well above average, and
that's a big, big improvement for him."
Devils, Spezza and his linemates, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, gamboled
as if they were playing pond hockey but never gambled on the defensive end,
combining for nine goals and 14 assists, a +18 rating and, yes, even 10 blocked
shots in the series. "The dangerous part is, [that line] is playing a great
two-way game," says Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "It's not even about
offense for that line anymore."
Spezza might have
lost his thirst for the blind drop pass, but not his cheek. In Game 4 the
Devils were called for icing, allowing Murray to make a line change and get a
favorable match-up. Murray told the Spezza line he wanted them "to make one
play at the net and get the hell off, a short shift." Eight seconds later,
after a Devils turnover, Heatley beat goalie Martin Brodeur from an acute angle
for the go-ahead goal. When Spezza returned to the bench, he turned to Murray
and asked, "Short enough for you?"