Habs Injury Updates: Markov, Gill, Mara, Spacek
The Montreal Canadiens flew into Pittsburgh on Friday looking to hammer the proverbial nail into the Pittsburgh Penguins coffin. With the series tied at two wins on each side, the Canadiens had momentum on their side coming off a win and a big confidence booster at the Bell Centre on Thursday night.
Unfortunately for the Canadiens, the Penguins depth, skill and experience was simply too much for them, as they Pens took last night's game by a score of 2-1, to take a 3-2 series lead and take an opportunity to clinch an Eastern Conference Final berth at the Bell Centre tomorrow night.
The Canadiens, of course, have nothing to be ashamed of, they've held the Penguins to two goals or less in each of the last four games, they have performed admirably against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, and they've made it further than most people ever thought they could.
Of course, it's not over until it's over, and we'll have plenty more on tomorrow's game, including details on the next (and possibly final) live game blog of the season for us and the Habs, but for now, there is some other business to attend to.
While the Montreal Canadiens fly back to Montreal today looking to prepare for what could be their last game of the season, there is much more news to get to before we can even think about tomorrow's Game 6 at the Bell Centre.
Two days ago on Friday, we reported right here on TCL - via Conor Mckenna of the Team 990 - that Andrei Markov has made the flight to Pittsburhg and that he could be closer to a return than most of us thought.
A miraculous return for game 5 obviously didn't come to fruition, as Markov spent the entirety of the game in a suit, watching the game from Carey Price's vantage point from across the bench, but hope still springs eternal for fans of the Montreal Canadiens, as a return could soon be on the horizon.
Good news has also sprung when it comes to the statuses of defensemen Jaroslav Spacek and Paul Mara, but unfortunately, the good news is offset by the potential loss of Hal Gill for the next game. Below is an updated status report for each of the four defensemen for the Canadiens.
Of course, the biggest piece to the puzzle for the Canadiens is their number one defenseman, Andrei Markov. You can't take anything away from anyone else who has contributed to the Canadiens' recent success, but Markov and his ability to play big minutes in any situation, and to do a lot of little things that may not always get noticed during a television broadcast make him invaluable.
Naturally, if Markov is able to return from his reported torn ACL earlier than thought, he won't be able to play nearly 30 minutes, and he won't be able to do everything that makes him such a great defenseman. Still, he could play some minutes on the powerplay and be there when the Canadiens need him, both on the ice and on the bench.
As I've already stated, you can play without an ACL muscle. A good brace, some therapy and a couple of good (legal) painkillers and you can definitely play, so long as you haven't had the surgery to repair the torn tendon yet. the ACL is the key tendon in the knee that helps stabilize it when you walk, but seeing as hockey is played on skates, it isn't as necessary as other muscles.
Of course, that doesn't mean that he will play. There are certain extenuating circumstances, such as the potential absense of Hal Gill, that could make the need for Markov's return more immediate, but of course, Jacques Martin and his staff won't want to rush him.
Markov skated at practice today, but he wasn't in uniform and only skated lightly. Still, an incredible feet considering where everyone thought he was just a week ago. I won't speculate to the possibility of his return any further than I can, but I will only hope that he CAN return, and that he CAN contribute if he does.
Canadiens fans collectively winced last night when Hal Gill was accidentally stepped on by the Penguins' Chris Kunitz in last night's game. Gill left the game with a cut to the back of his knee, and would not return, as he was seen dressed in a suit around Carey Price during the third period.
Gill has been one of the Canadiens best defensemen, paired up against Alexandre Ovechkin in round 1 and doing a fine job shutting down Sidney Crosby in this round, not to mention the incredible amount of shots he's blocked (a league-leading 51 shots blocked, almost 20 more than Josh Gorges' 33 in second place). Losing Hal Gill for even a single game could be a devastating blow to the Canadiens, especially with the entire series on the line in Montreal.
Gill remained in Pittsburgh overnight, without the team, opting to return Sunday along with the Canadiens' team doctor David Mulder after treatment, but fortunately, Gill told the Ottawa Sun that he hoped to play Monday and that it was "just a cut." But the Canadiens could have to face elimination without him.
The good news for the Canadiens comes on the Jaroslav Spacek front. While RDS was relatively negative when it came to the potential of Andrei Markov and Hal Gill playing on Monday, they also reported that the chances of seeing Spacek in uniform are high.
Spacek himself said that he "felt nearly ready to return. I got a lot better over the course of the last week. I'm not really feeling the pressure to return because of the other injuries. The decision is essentially mine, in the end."
The team as well as Spacek have been incredibly secretive as the the nature of the virus that has kept Spacek on the sidelines for 9 games now, citing that "Only my wife knows. I was really scared. Hockey became secondary. It's really the worst feeling that you could have. Other hockey players have had to retire because of this particular illness."
Thankfully, Spacek seems mostly recovered and ready for a return, and his presence will definitely help the Canadiens stave off elimination.
The forgotten defenseman on the Canadiens blueline since the halfway point of the season has been Paul Mara. Mara was a free agent acquisition this past summer, and after providing a few assists early on last year, he quickly dropped off. Mara had only one assist between mid-November and January 22nd, when he played his final game as a Canadien after finally deciding to end his season with shoulder surgery. With a total of 8 assists (no goals) and a team-worst -16 in 43 games, no one thought that Mara would be that big of a loss for the Canadiens, and frankly, he wasn't.
But the defenseman has seen a lot of playoff time in New York over the past 3 seasons, and he could be good for the group on the bench and with limited time on the ice.
Mara skated with full equipment in today's practice, but will only play if the Canadiens really have no one else to put on the blueline.
Rest assured if the Canadiens can get any or all of Andrei Markov, Jaro Spacek and Hal Gill into the line-up on Monday, they will.
Hypothetically, if the three can play in game 6 tomorrow night, what will the Canadiens blueline look like when the puck drops?
Obviously, since Gill dressed for the beginning of game 5, no one will come out of he is able to play.
The next likely candidate for a return to the blueline tomorrow is Jaroslav Spacek, and odds are he will be taking the spot of Marc-Andre Bergeron. Bergeron should move to to the 4th line (with someone like Benoit Pouliot moving to the pressbox).
If Andrei Markov can also play, this is where the tough decisions come to mind. PK Subban is the least experienced defenseman for the Canadiens, but he has also performed admirably in his attempt to take over for Markov. Odds are that Ryan O'Byrne the most physical but also the least used defenseman for the Canadiens, would likely be on the sidelines.
Of course, anything can happen, and it's possible that Jacques Martin has something completely different in mind for tomorrow's game. Clearly, the Canadiens are saving some sort of surprise, some sort of Hail Mary for the Penguins tomorrow, and we can only wait and see what it is.