Blockbuster role for Spezza

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

Senators centre Mike Fisher couldn't believe it.

Captain Daniel Alfredsson still is skeptical.

"It's like the Loch Ness Monster," said forward Chris Kelly. "You hear about it, but you never see it."

It happened with just a little more than six minutes left in what turned out to be the Senators' 2-0 win over the New Jersey Devils in Game 3.

Jason Spezza blocked a shot.

Got his leg in front of it.

ON PURPOSE.

Stopped it.

"Yeah, I saw it," said Fisher. "We were sitting on the bench and we were all like, 'Yeah!' We were cheering. It was great."

Alfredsson didn't see it.

"I haven't seen it," he said, "and I still don't believe it."

This is how things have evolved for Spezza and the Senators.

First off, just the fact he was on the ice with six minutes to go in a 1-0 playoff game is noteworthy.

That Spezza was sticking a limb in front of a puck shot by Patrik Elias?

Well ...

"Fisher doesn't lie. If he says he saw it, then it has to be true," said Kelly. "There's a few other guys on this team if they say they saw Spezza block a shot, I don't know ... especially if it was Spezza (saying it)."

Spezza blocked 14 shots this season, last among the club's regulars. To be fair, a centre has fewer opportunities, especially one who doesn't kill penalties.

Defenceman Anton Volchenkov blocked an NHL-leading 273. He had eight alone in Game 2 against the Devils.

Spezza had that one, his first of the post-season. In Game 3 alone, there were 31 blocked shots.

Tease play

But there is something significant in Spezza sticking a leg in front of a puck.

His teammates noticed and took some joy in teasing him, but more importantly it stands out as another example of a player doing whatever the situation demands. This series is far from over heading into Game 4 tonight, but there are encouraging signs for the Senators.

Spezza has been the barometer for how well these Senators, especially the so-called skilled guys, are committing to playing the type of hockey this time of year demands.

Helping Spezza evolve into that type of player has produced a lot of push and pull between himself and coach Bryan Murray.

The coach said it has been a gradual, and sometimes frustrating, process.

"He and I had many discussions,'' said Murray. ''He was frustrated with me and I was a little frustrated with him early in the year, as we were at times last year. I think he recognized that if he would just play a little more without the puck, a little harder without the puck, he could really add to what he does for this hockey team."

Maybe it was the way the Senators played while Spezza was out with a knee injury in December. The team went 11-2-1 without him. That might make a guy think he should do whatever he could to help, grow his game some, make himself more valuable.

"Shortly after that, he started to do it more and more. He got rewarded by getting on the ice at critical times in games and he got better," said Murray. "Now I feel very comfortable with him going out on the ice and trying to win a faceoff or trying to shut a team down in the last minute of a one-goal game."

And there was Spezza, out there in the last minute of Game 3, in a one-goal game with Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur on the bench for an extra attacker.

Spezza got the empty-netter to salt it away.

"It's a long year and you're always going to have disagreements," Spezza said of his development under Murray. "Bryan's always been real open with me. He lets me know what he wants me to do differently and I let him know sometimes how I think things should be done ... a little bit.

"Bryan's been awesome. He's taught me a lot and helped me a lot."

But he didn't teach him how to block shots.

"I just went down and tried to copy Volch," Spezza said with a giggle.

"He didn't block it like Volchenkov," said assistant coach John Paddock. "But he did it. The effort was there. The desire to get it done was there."

So, what went through his head right before he decided to go down to try and block Elias' shot?

" 'I don't want them to score,' '' said Spezza. "My reaction was just to do whatever I had to do."

"He went down and did it properly," said Murray. "He looked like he knew what he was doing."

Yes, in more ways than one.


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