The Boston Bruins snapped out of their worst stretch of the season with an inspired effort in their last contest. What happens Tuesday night will likely be even more inspiring, regardless of the game's result.
Rookie left wing Phil Kessel returns to the ice following a bout with testicular cancer when the Bruins visit the Northeast Division-rival Ottawa Senators.
Kessel, Boston's 19-year-old first-round draft pick, learned of his condition Dec. 9, shortly before playing in a 5-1 loss to New Jersey. He underwent surgery three days later to remove the cancer.
He played two games last week for Providence of the AHL before the Bruins (20-16-3) recalled him Sunday, setting the stage for his return in this matchup.
Kessel has five goals and four assists in 27 games with Boston. He did not register a point in two meetings with Ottawa (23-19-2), but was heavily involved in the offense, putting 13 shots on net in the contests.
The Bruins have won all three meetings with the Senators this season, including a 7-2 rout at Ottawa on Dec. 19. Patrice Bergeron had a career-high five assists, while Marco Sturm recorded his second career hat trick in that game.
That contest marked the return to Ottawa for Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, who signed with Boston last July after spending the previous four seasons with the Senators. Chara has one goal and two assists in three games against his former team this season, but is questionable for this matchup due to a lower-body injury which caused him to miss Saturday's 4-3 victory over Philadelphia.
"We'll see how he feels, with hopeful anticipation he travels with us," Boston coach Dave Lewis said.
Saturday's win ended the Bruins' season high-tying three-game losing streak, a stretch during which they'd been outscored 20-3. The low point came in a 10-2 defeat to Toronto on Thursday, after which Boston held a rare team meeting.
"After Thursday night's game we sat here and put it all on the table," said Marc Savard, who had two goals and two assists Saturday. "Teams go through that. We played two months of good hockey. We know we can do it. Guys got it out of their system."
With 43 points, the Bruins are in last place in the Northeast, one point behind the fourth-place Maple Leafs and five back of the Senators. However, Boston's 39 games played are the fewest in the NHL. Ottawa has already played 44 times, tied for the most in the league.
Like the Bruins one day earlier, the Senators took advantage of the team with the league's worst record on Sunday, cruising to a 6-1 victory over the Flyers. Jason Spezza missed his eighth straight game due to a knee injury, but his linemate Dany Heatley had two goals and an assist.
"You kind of just go with what your line is made up of," said Heatley, who has five goals in the past three games. "With Kells and Alfie, it's more give-and-go, chip it in and move the puck a little bit more."
Ottawa has won six of eight games without Spezza.
"And with Spezz, for me, it's just kind of get open and shoot the puck," Heatley said. "It changes a little bit. But I think the biggest reason (for the hot streak) is everyone's playing better and skating better. It makes the game easier."