OTTAWA, Ontario -- The Ottawa Senators are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with the introduction of winger Mark Stone to their lineup, but whether the Pittsburgh Penguins try to counter with a little Jussi Jokinen magic has yet to be determined.
Ottawa coach Paul MacLean more or less confirmed that the 6-foot-2 Stone will enter the lineup for Game 4 on Wednesday night, replacing the diminutive Cory Conacher. The expectation is that Stone will go into Conacher’s spot on the top line with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek.
MacLean said the coaching staff has long envisioned that Stone, who finished tied for the team lead with 38 points with the Senators’ American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, could be a good linemate for Spezza, but the circumstances didn’t allow it.
Until now, apparently.
“He really had a very good season [in Binghamton],” MacLean said.
Stone played in just one playoff game last year for the Senators, but it was a memorable one as he assisted on the winning goal in Game 5 of Ottawa’s series against the New York Rangers.
“It was probably the best experience of my life,” Stone said Wednesday.
The Winnipeg, Manitoba, native played in four regular-season games with the Senators this season but did not register a point.
“Obviously watching the games, you want to be a part of it, so I’m obviously excited, looking forward to the opportunity,” Stone said.
If there’s one thing that has marked the Senators this season, given all the injury issues that have afflicted them, it’s been the ability of young players to come to the big club and step almost seamlessly into prominent roles with the team.
Spezza praised former NHL player Luke Richardson, the head coach in Binghamton, and his staff for preparing the young players who have been key contributors to the Senators’ surprising run to the second round of the playoffs.
“Organizationally, we’re all playing the same way now. Luke, he demands the same things of the guys down there as Mac does here, and when they get the call, they don’t have to change anything,” said Spezza, who will be playing in just his second game of the postseason after suffering a back injury that caused him to miss all but five games in the regular season.
With the teams coming off a double-overtime effort in Game 3, the Senators emerging as 2-1 victors thanks to Colin Greening’s goal, it would seem that both coaches are looking to coax a little more offense out of their rosters.
Indications are that Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma may pencil Jokinen back into the lineup. He came out in Game 5 of the first round against the New York Islanders after registering two assists in the first four games.
“Jussi is a guy who’s been out of our lineup, and you’re sitting out a guy who can make plays, score big goals,” Bylsma said. “He’s a faceoff guy, been very good on the left faceoff circle. He’s also a guy who would see time on our second power-play unit as well.”
Jokinen was dynamic after coming over from the Carolina Hurricanes at the trade deadline, scoring 11 points in 10 games down the stretch.
But with Bylsma looking for a little more sand in a difficult series against the Islanders, he inserted Joe Vitale into the lineup. Jokinen hasn’t been able to get back on the ice since. But with Vitale out the last game and replaced by an ineffective Tanner Glass, it looks like the stars are aligning for Jokinen to return.
“Obviously, I haven’t sit down too many games in my career,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not an easy situation.
“It’s all about the team. The only thing you can do is keep yourself in good shape, keep working hard and stay positive.”
He conceded he doesn’t envy the roster decisions facing Bylsma each game.
“Right now we’ve got up here 16 forwards and nine D who are all really good NHL players, who could play every night on some other team,” Jokinen said. “It’s not easy to be a coach on this team, that’s for sure.”