OTTAWA – As Jason Spezza raised his arms in celebration Thursday night, he also let out a huge sigh of relief.
Spezza’s first goal of season came on a power-play at 4:17 of overtime as the Ottawa Senators defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2. Spezza, a 30-goal scorer in each of the past three seasons, had been held goalless through his first 10 games this season before firing a slapshot past Lightning goaltender Antero Niittymaki with Lightning defenceman Mattias Ohlund in the penalty box for holding. Spezza added a pair of assists in his return after missing two games with an upper-body injury.
“The first one’s always nice,” said Spezza. “I felt pretty good about my game.”
Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher also scored for the Senators (7-4-2), who ended a two-game losing streak. Pascal Leclaire made 18 saves to earn the victory.
Alex Tanguay and Steve Stamkos each scored power-play goals for the Lightning (5-5-4), who fell to 1-1-1 on their four-game road trip. Niittymaki stopped 26 shots in defeat.
And while Spezza’s goal was huge for the Senators it was Chris Neil’s hit on Victor Hedman that had everyone talking.
Neil nailed Hedman behind the Tampa net with just over five minutes remaining in the second. Before Neil could get his balance Steve Downie jumped in and the two exchanged punches. Downie was given an instigator penalty on the play.
While some of Hedman’s teammates thought the hit was dirty, Lightning coach Rick Tocchet had no issue with it.
“It was a good hit,” he said. “The puck was there. There was nothing wrong with that hit. That’s hockey.”
However, Tampa’s Zenon Konopka is hoping the league will take a close look at the incident and that Neil will be reprimanded.
“He took a 30-foot run,” said Konopka. “(Hedman) was in a vulnerable position. It was a big loss for us.”
In contrast Neil felt he was just doing his job.
“I looked at the replay and I didn’t leave my feet,” said Neil. “Even if I did leave my feet I still wouldn’t have hit him in the head he’s eight feet tall. I hope he’s all right, but that’s my job.”
After meeting three times in the last three weeks, the intensity between the teams is clearly growing with every game. There were a number of scuffles after the whistle, and the second period featured a pair of fights.
The teams exchanged goals in a relatively calm first period.
The Lightning opened the scoring at 3:03. Leclaire thought he had put a glove on the puck, but Jeff Halpern poked it underneath the Ottawa netminder and Tanguay poked it into the net.
Alfredsson evened the score less than two minutes later, converting a rebound on a shot from Spezza.
Things intensified in the second, but not before the Senators took a 2-1 lead on a power play at the 12-minute mark. Spezza made a perfect cross-ice pass to Alex Kovalev, who then found Fisher all alone at the side of the net.
“It was fun to get the win,” said Fisher. “We were feeling like we were playing all right and it was just a matter of time.”
The Lightning replied with the man advantage 1:40 later, as Stamkos scored his team-high 12th of the season on a wicked slapshot.
“It was high intensity,” said Tampa’s Vincent Lecavalier. “Both teams had their chances; both goalies played good.”
The third was hard fought as the Senators were looking to end a two-game losing streak and the Lightning were looking for just their second win on the road this season.
Kovalev had a great scoring chance on a delayed penalty call early in the third period, but he hit the post. Filip Kuba appeared to score on the rebound, but the goal was disallowed as the referee ruled Tampa had possession.
The Senators appeared to score the winner with 26.8 seconds remaining in regulation, but this time the goal was called back on a high stick.
Notes: The Senators were without D Anton Volchenkov (elbow, 2-3 weeks). Mike Fisher is getting plenty of attention of late as his girlfriend, country singer Carrie Underwood, makes the rounds of the talk-show circuit. Underwood talked about Fisher during an appearance on Live with Regis and Kelly Thursday morningaThe Lightning were without D Paul Ranger (personal).