Markov's injury hampers Canadiens

| Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Penguins aren't the only team dealing with a possibly devastating injury.

Andrei Markov, widely considered Montreal's finest defenseman, did not return to Game 1 following a clean hit from Matt Cooke and appears unlikely to play again in this series.

The veteran defenseman returned to Montreal on Saturday to receive additional medical attention.

"It's tough to replace any guy who plays those minutes and who is a big part of your team," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said.

The Penguins are dealing with the loss of center Jordan Staal, and it's difficult to gauge which injury could have a bigger effect on this series.

Markov's value to the Canadiens' blue line can't be diminished. While the shutdown duo of Hal Gill and Josh Gorges has received loads of attention during the postseason, Markov is the man who makes Montreal's defense dangerous. He is the power play's quarterback and a pretty fair defensive player.

"They're without one of their best defensemen, if not their best defensemen," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

Markov ordinarily plays more minutes than any Montreal player, his style and importance to the Canadiens probably being comparable to countryman Sergei Gonchar's role with the Penguins.

The Penguins are certainly aware that losing Markov is a big blow to the Canadiens.

"He's as big of a loss for them as Staal is for us," Cooke said.

Markov was injured in the first period Friday, when the game was tied, 1-1. The defenseman went to the corner to retrieve a puck and absorbed a clean, punishing hit from Cooke.

Even before Markov crashed to the ice, he threw a glove into the air, illustrating the pain he felt. Replays showed something happened to Markov's right knee, ankle or foot even though the hit was actually pinpointed on his shoulder.

"I hate seeing anyone get hurt like that," Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban said. "We just need to all play better if he's out."

Subban is one of the players who will be in the spotlight. A rookie with loads of talent, he scored his first NHL goal in the first period Friday and will be counted upon heavily with Markov out.

The Penguins were impressed with his play.

"They have some other guys," Crosby said. "Subban played well."

Montreal also might get a lift today because there is a chance that defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, who has been battling an illness, could play in Game 2.

Crosby thinks his presence could give the Canadiens a huge boost.

"He's a good defenseman, and I'm sure he'll be in there," Crosby said. "Spacek is no inexperienced guy. It's not like they're filling voids with inexperienced guys."

Still, much like the Penguins having to play without Staal, the Canadiens figure to miss their most well-rounded defenseman. The Penguins maintain their game plan won't change, that they will attempt to punish Montreal's defenseman with a heavy forecheck no matter who is playing.

"Now we need to keep making their team go back," Bylsma said, "and making their whole team play in the defensive zone."

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