OTTAWA – No one was happier to see Dany Heatley return to action than his linemate Jason Spezza.
Heatley scored twice in his return from an 11-game absence to help the Ottawa Senators defeat the Florida Panthers 5-4 Thursday night at Scotiabank Place. Spezza assisted on both goals and had three assists total in the game. He tried to setup Heatley for the hat trick into an empty net but to no avail.
“We’ve got pretty good chemistry and Heater was pretty excited to play,” Spezza said. “When you’re losing games it’s nice to get a jolt of energy back in your line-up and it’s nice when it comes in the way of a 50-goal man.”Heatley, who was sidelined with a separated shoulder injury, added an assist while Christoph Schubert, Joe Corvo and Chris Phillips also scored for the Senators (33-18-4), who went 3-8-0 in Heatley’s absence and had lost three straight. Wade Redden chipped in with two assists.
David Booth, Nathan Horton, Brett McLean and Olli Jokinen scored for the Panthers (25-26-5), who saw their three-game winning streak snapped.
Heatley’s second goal of the game, on the power play, broke a 4-4 tie at 7:26 of the third period and proved to be the winner. Redden took a shot that Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun got a piece of, but Heatley was right there to tap the puck in as it fell behind Vokoun’s left leg and into the blue paint.
“I felt good,” Heatley said. “The first period was just to get back to game pace and a little bit rusty, but the second and third felt a little more comfortable and I got the timing and felt good.”
Vokoun finished with 29 saves, while Ray Emery made 29 saves for the Senators.
The Panthers had control of the first period, but were outscored 4-3 in a wild second period.
Booth opened the scoring on the power play late in the first period, where the Panthers held a 16-5 advantage in shots.
Heatley tied the game just 58 seconds into the second period, and around five minutes later Schubert and Corvo gave the Sens a 3-1 lead and apparent control of the game.
McLean, however, scored on the power play just before the midway point of the period and Horton tied the game at 10:04.
The floodgates stayed open a little while longer as Phillips gave the Senators a 4-3 lead at 13:31, but just 46 seconds later Jokinen was credited for a goal that bounced from player-to-player before floating over Emery’s shoulder and in.
“The win is all that matters and we needed that. We played a pretty competitive game and really battled against a team that’s playing well,” said Spezza.
Panthers coach Jacques Martin was pleased with the way his team started, but he said mistakes, and penalties, cost them in the end.
“We played a real strong first period, I thought the way we should play against them, and in the second period we opened it up and they’ve got people that are going to capitalize on mistakes,” he said.
“When you look at the penalties we took, it hurt us and they took advantage and capitalized on it. It’s tough and that was the difference in the hockey game really.”
Following the game, the Senators announced that Roy Mlakar, president, CEO and alternate governor of the Senators and Scotiabank Place, had signed a contract extension through the end of the 2008-09 season.
Notes: Despite the loss, the Panthers are 13-6-0 in their last 19 road games after starting the season 1-8-1 away from Sunrise. They set their franchise record with 18 road wins in 1993-94, their inaugural season. . . . The 11 games Heatley missed were the first he has sat out as a member of the Senators. . . . The Senators recorded their 21st consecutive sellout Thursday.