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Original Issue

His Body As Evidence

An offensive wiz, Ottawa's strapping Jason Spezza has thrown himself into playing defense

OTTAWA SENATORScenter 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 PatrikElias shot in the chest with six minutes to go in Game 3 against the New JerseyDevils last week. Although the shot block was widely reported, the press mightas well have said that a pig had been spotted flying over Parliament inCanada's capital. Indeed when Chris Stevenson of the Ottawa Sun asked Senatorsplayers if they had actually seen the block, forward Chris Kelly replied,"No. Like the Loch Ness Monster, you hear about it but you never seeit."

Following a win inthe next game--Ottawa eventually would brush aside the Devils in a 3--2 win inGame 5 last Saturday to advance to the Eastern Conference finals against theBuffalo Sabres--Kelly summoned the reporter and stage whispered, "I've seenNessie." 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 averagewas fifth in the NHL. "Without the puck, he's well above average, andthat's a big, big improvement for him."

Against theDevils, Spezza and his linemates, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, gamboledas 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 blockedshots in the series. "The dangerous part is, [that line] is playing a greattwo-way game," says Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "It's not even aboutoffense for that line anymore."

Spezza might havelost his thirst for the blind drop pass, but not his cheek. In Game 4 theDevils were called for icing, allowing Murray to make a line change and get afavorable match-up. Murray told the Spezza line he wanted them "to make oneplay 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 anglefor the go-ahead goal. When Spezza returned to the bench, he turned to Murrayand asked, "Short enough for you?"



BLOCK PARTY Spezza's line had a +18 rating and stopped 10 shots against New Jersey.