OTTAWA - The heart and soul of the Ottawa Senators should be back for the biggest game of the season.
Daniel Alfredsson participated in an optional skate at Scotiabank Place on Sunday afternoon and looked ready to return for Monday's Game 6 against the New York Rangers. The only thing that could prevent it is an unexpected setback in his recovery from a concussion.
"I'm hopeful," said Alfredsson. "We're obviously going to wait until tomorrow (before making a decision). But the way the last two days felt, I'm encouraged."
The 39-year-old spent more than an hour on the ice with a handful of teammates, his second consecutive day of skating. He's been out of the lineup since taking an elbow to the face from Carl Hagelin — a fellow Swede who grew up idolizing Alfredsson — in Game 2.
Alfredsson also dealt with a head injury earlier in the season and thinks it's difficult to pinpoint the exact moment of recovery.
"It's a hard injury to really evaluate," he said. "(You wonder): 'Do I feel like I do because I haven't done anything for four or five days or is it the concussion? Why is it?' It's hard to know. You've got to kind of try yourself in different situations and see how you react."
Ottawa won two of the three games it played without Alfredsson and has a chance to eliminate the Rangers with another victory on Monday night.
Teammates are cautiously optimistic the captain will be back then. But they're not counting on it.
"We're a much better team with Alfie in the lineup, but we're also a resilient bunch," said forward Jason Spezza. "If he can't play, we're fine and we can work through it. Different guys have stepped up.
"But there's no bones about it, we're a better team when he's in the lineup and having his presence there."
Alfredsson watched the last three games of the series from his couch — he elected not to travel to New York for Game 5 — and has been anxiously waiting to make a return. The layoff was made slightly more bearable because his teammates managed to have success without him.
"It could have been a lot harder," said Alfredsson. "The guys have played really hard. I think we've played the way we want to and it's been fun to watch — but it's also been a frustrating week.
"It's nice to be back on the ice and hopefully get back at it tomorrow."
Alfredsson is in his 16th season with the Senators and has participated in every playoff series in franchise history. He remains one of the team's better offensive players and scored Ottawa's first goal during a Game 1 loss to the Rangers.
The timing of his return seems to create a near-perfect scenario with the Senators having a chance to knock off the top seed in the Eastern Conference in front of their amped-up home fans.
"We're encouraged and optimistic obviously from the progress he's made," said Senators coach Paul MacLean. "We'll see what (happens) tomorrow. It's definitely encouraging."