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Craig Anderson blanks Islanders in return after leave for wife's cancer fight

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Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson shut out the New York Islanders on Saturday in his return to game action after a long stretch away while he helped his wife battle against cancer.

The game, a 3-0 Senators victory, was Anderson’s first since Dec. 5. He had taken a leave of absence after that game to be with his wife Nicholle as she underwent treatment for nasopharyngeal carcinoma. According to the National Cancer Institute, nasopharyngeal carcinoma is “a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the nasopharynx,” which is the upper part of the throat.

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In late October, Anderson took an initial leave of absence just before Nicholle’s diagnosis was announced. Overall the Senators have allowed him to take several leaves in 2016-17. Anderson returned to practice with Ottawa on Jan. 31.

The 35-year-old goaltender made 33 saves against New York on Saturday to help Ottawa improve to 64 points, two ahead of the Boston Bruins and three in front of the Toronto Maple Leafs for second place in the Atlantic Division. Anderson is 13-6-1 with a 2.34 goal-against average and .927 save percentage this season. In order to make room for Anderson’s return, the Senators put Andrew Hammond on waivers and reportedly plan to send him to the American Hockey League.

“It was an exciting day for myself to get back in the net,” Anderson said. “Just to be there for the guys, feel the camaraderie.”

OTTAWA, ON – FEBRUARY 11: Craig Anderson #41 of the Ottawa Senators stretches in his crease during player introductions prior to a game against the New York Islanders at Canadian Tire Centre on February 11, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
OTTAWA, ON – FEBRUARY 11: Craig Anderson #41 of the Ottawa Senators stretches in his crease during player introductions prior to a game against the New York Islanders at Canadian Tire Centre on February 11, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

This was the second time Anderson returned from a leave to post a shutout. The other came at the Edmonton Oilers, just days after the team announced the news about Nicholle’s health.

“This one was a little less emotional compared to the other one,” said Anderson. “There were a lot more unknowns (in October). Now, we know a lot more about our situation and it’s a little easier emotionally to come in and play.”

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher praised Anderson and noted the significance of this game for the netminder and team. The crowd at the Canadian Tire Centre chanted Anderson’s name after he was announced as the game’s first star.

“I can’t be more happy,” Boucher said. “It would be a lie if I said this was just a normal game. We’ve been waiting for him to come back for a long time. While he was gone, the players have done a terrific job of keeping the pace and (Mike) Condon has been terrific in the role he has been given.

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“But what I have in mind now is just that (Anderson) continues what he had started before he had to leave. He makes it look easy.”

On Jan. 3, Nicholle posted an update on her blog about a recent CT scan, noting “a pretty clear nasopharynx area.” In her most recent blog post on Jan. 16, she said she had undergone her last chemo and had three days until her last radiation treatment.

On Saturday, Nicholle tweeted her support for Craig saying “I couldn’t be happier to see some normalcy back in our life. Let’s go Guys! #GoSensGo.”

Later she said on Twitter, “It doesn’t matter what day it is babe, you will always be my first star! I love you!”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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