Pens - Habs Game 5 Preview: Markov, referees, more!

Something eerie is a brewin' in Habs Land today.

While the team is in Pittsburgh, mere hours away from game 5 against the Penguins, a game which will give the wining team a 3-2 series lead, Pandora's box has been opened in Montreal when it comes to the status of defenseman Andrei Markov.

Are reported yesterday right here on TCL, the injured defenseman made the trip to Pittsburgh with the rest of the team. Among the speculation as to why Markov would fly down if he was injured was that he was just there to cheer the team on (as was Paul Mara) and that his injury was not as bad as originally thought, and he might actually be able to suit up for the Canadiens tonight.

Dave Stubbs from Habs Inside/Out attempted to douse some hold water on all the rumors, paraphrasing Jacques Martin in saying that "that Markov is on this trip simply because the team's entire medical staff is here, and it's easier for him to continue to undergo treatment here than in Montreal."

While that's an interesting excuse, I will continue to hold to my opinion that there's obviously something fishy going on here.

Markov's "treatment" is supposed to require surgery, something he hasn't gotten yet. Moreover, why would he put himself through sitting on an uncomfortable airplane for a few hours just for the day and a half of "treatment" he would receive while the team was in Pittsburgh?

I could be wrong, and I realize that, either way, the chances of him playing a game at all these playoffs, yet alone tonight, are slim, but hey, as we've said so many times in the last few weeks, it's the playoffs, and anything can happen.

And if that "anything can happen" saying applies to anyone, it's the Montreal Canadiens. If anyone reading this actually thought that the Habs would going into game 5 with a 2-2 series tie against the defending Stanley Cup champions, kindly go out and buy a lottery ticket right now. And I'm not talking about the blind faith thinking that the Canadiens would be in this spot, I'm talking about the rational thinking that most of us should have had deep down going into this series.

Let's face it, as good as the Canadiens were against the Capitals, and as surprising as that series win was, you had to be thinking that the gas in the tank would start to run out once they would start playing the Pens. And through the first game, after Markov's injury and when it became clear that Jaroslav Spacek was nowhere near a return, things were looking pretty bad, and no one would have been blamed for thinking the Canadiens didn't stand a change.

But in games 2, 3 (despite the loss) and 4, the Canadiens did exactly what they did against the Washington Capitals, and as a result, we find ourselves looking at a best of 3 series as the second round of the playoffs begins to wind down.

I don't want to go into the refereeing controversies and bias officiating accusations we've all heard and made since game 4. I don't want to say that there's a conspiracy, frankly, I don't think there is, and neither does my colleague, Kyle Roussel. When you look at the big picture of things, the fact of the matter is that a lot of experienced referees that are usually still reffing in the 2nd round of the playoffs are either retired or on the sidelines with injuries. Moreover, most of these guys were not developed in a 2-man system, and because of these two combined factors, you just have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Was the officiating spotty on Thursday night? Yes, it obviously was. Was it unfair, or in the favor of the Penguins? That's harder to say. There were missed calls on both sides, for both the Pens and the Habs. Yes, the missed calls were slanted in the favor of the Penguins, but I truly believe that there is no conspiracy, there is no evil Gary Bettman plot to get the Penguins through the next round.

What I believe is that the officiating is just bad, inexperienced and unready for this level of play at this point in the playoffs.

One can only hope that the head of refereeing is seeing what's happening out there, and that it can only get better from that pitiful display we witnessed on Thursday night.

Sure, it's frustrating to watch if you're a Habs fan, and it's only natural to think that certain superstar players might be getting some favorable treatment in game, but truth be told, with a 2-2 tie going into tonight's game, there isn't much to complain about. We just have to take it in stride and move on.

Tonight is a new night, a new game, and a new series.

And if the Canadiens stand any chance of winning, they can't do any whining about the officiating. Once again, they have to stick to the gameplan, bury every good chance they get and shut down Crosby and Malkin. With the Penguins' chance to go into this game with a 3-1 lead long gone, they're going to be angry, and doing all of the above is going to be easier said than done.

But through 11 games these playoffs, if you can qualify the Canadiens as anything, it's giant killers. Tonight, the Canadiens will attempt to be the David to the Penguins' Goliath.

Can the pull it off? Maybe, maybe not, but you can bet that millions of people in Montreal, Quebec, and all over Canada will be cheering them on. While the Canucks series isn't over yet, you have to look at the Canadiens' as Canada's best chance to bring the cup home at this point.

A win tonight could be a dagger right in the heart of the Penguins, and the Canadiens simply NEED to take advantage.

Enjoy the game!