OTTAWA -- Jason Spezza hasn't forgotten Ottawa's first game against the Penguins this season.
Likely won't for a while.
Not because there was anything particularly compelling about the Penguins' 2-1 shootout victory Jan. 27 in Ottawa, but because it was then that Spezza admitted to himself that there was a back operation in his immediate future.
"I knew after the first period that that was probably my last game before surgery," he said Sunday.
Spezza had that operation Feb. 1 and didn't pull on a Senators sweater again until Sunday night, when he was held without a point in Ottawa's 2-1 victory against the Penguins in Game 3 of their second-round playoff series at Scotiabank Place.
Spezza, the Senators' No. 1 center, had similar disc surgery in 2006, and said the first signs that there was a new issue developed during the 2011-12 season.
"Toward the end of the year, I felt a little bit," he said. "I felt I had to stay on it a little more. But it was real good, it was real manageable.
"Having the summer off, it was manageable. Then, I played over in Switzerland [during the lockout that shut down the NHL until mid-January], and it was manageable.
"Then, for whatever reason, one or two games into the [NHL] season, it just kind of flared up on me."
The problem affected his right side, Spezza said, and morphed from being a minor annoyance to an issue that couldn't be ignored.
"It was kind of gradual," he said. "I felt it a little bit, then it got bad and then I had three or four days where I couldn't do anything."
Spezza said there was no specific cause of his problem -- "Unless you get a huge hit or a car accident or something, usually your back [problem] just slowly progresses," he said.
He also said a variety of more conservative remedies were attempted before the decision to operate was made.
"We had talked about it and tried a whole bunch of different things," Spezza said. "I took a cortisone shot, and it didn't do anything.
"When you take a cortisone shot and it doesn't affect you, you know that the only way to fix it is surgery."
That's the same determination that was made nearly seven years earlier after Spezza had endured months of life-altering pain.
"It was to the point where I couldn't go to dinner with the guys," he said. "I had to eat standing up and slept on the floor. It was not a fun time."
The timing of his first operation gave Spezza an entire summer to recover, a luxury he did not have this time because of his desire to return to the lineup before Ottawa's season ended.
"It was different [in 2006] because it was the offseason," he said. "I really took my time coming back.
"This [presented] different challenges, trying to come back in-season. Obviously, when you have major surgery, it's easier just to take five or six months and make sure that everything is fine, take it slow."
Spezza resumed skating about three weeks ago, but said he made fairly steady progress until it was determined that he was prepared to resume playing.
"There have been a few setbacks," he said. "But every day in the last three weeks, it's almost felt like it's gotten better and better and better."
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG.