Havlat's ready to fly

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:46 AM ET

TORONTO -- Finally, Mach Nine has been cleared for liftoff.

Senators winger Martin Havlat met with doctors here last night and received the go-ahead to return against the Maple Leafs tonight at Air Canada Centre.

After missing 58 games since having shoulder surgery on Dec. 13, Havlat is back just in time to help the Senators with the start of the playoffs only a week away.

Doctors wanted to make sure Havlat's shoulder strength is where it needs to be as he prepares to face the Leafs tonight and the New York Rangers on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden to end the regular season.

"This was my goal -- to play in the playoffs," said Havlat. "The doctors told me that it was going to be 4-6 months when I had the surgery and this is right at the four-month mark.

"I'm really happy to have the chance to come back and help the team win the Stanley Cup. I didn't know if I was going to get it when this first happened to me. It has been pretty tough for me to watch from the stands every night."

But part of the reason he has been given clearance by Cleveland shoulder specialist Anthony Miniaci is Havlat's determination to come back from the injury. He has spent the last six weeks doing rehabilitation on the shoulder and working out twice a day to prepare for the post-season ride.

Many wonder how effective Havlat can be after missing much playing time, but he's fortunate he's been allowed to skate for the past couple of months and has been one of the best players in practice during that time.

"The big thing for me is going to be getting my timing back and, for sure, that's going to be tough because I haven't played," said Havlat, one of the NHL's most exciting young players.

"Yes, I would have liked to have played more than two regular-season games to get ready for the playoffs, but to get the chance to play is great for me. I'm going to use these two games and, hopefully, that will help me when we start chasing the Stanley Cup. That's what you want to do."

At practice yesterday at the Bell Sensplex, Havlat skated on a line with Peter Schaefer and Bryan Smolinski. That's the way coach Bryan Murray will start the game and then see if he has to make any changes.

"I like the chemistry that Schaefer and Havlat have. They like playing together and I didn't know there was a rule that every time Havlat goes into the zone, Schaefer has to give him the puck," said Murray with a large smile on his face.

Getting Havlat back is surely a big boost for the Senators at just the right time.

"Anytime you can (get back) a player who means so much to your team that's a good thing," said Senators defenceman Zdeno Chara. "He's got a lot of talent and he brings the speed as well."

ARNASON OUT: The return of Havlat means Tyler Arnason will be a spectator tonight against the Leafs. He didn't play in the third period of the Thursday's 5-4 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers and will be a healthy scratch tonight. "I've given him a lot of opportunities to play with good players," said Murray. "Now I want him to watch a bit and then have a chance to speak with me and the rest of the coaching staff about what he's got to do. I was planning on taking other people out of the lineup when Havlat was ready to come back, but some of those people are playing well and they deserve to stay in there. Right now, we're going to try it this way."

HASEK SKATES: Senators G Dominik Hasek was back on the ice yesterday, but won't be in the lineup tonight against the Leafs. He didn't speak with reporters, but it wasn't hard to notice that Hasek was very careful about not going down with any authority to make saves. That doesn't bode well for the Senators having Hasek in the lineup for the playoffs. "The good thing is, he was out there for the whole 45-minute practice and that's a step in the right direction," said Murray.

BRUCE.GARRIOCH@OTT.SUNPUB.COM


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