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Habs playoff hopes take huge hit as Markov felled with apparent knee injury

PITTSBURGH, Pa. - As Andrei Markov crumpled in the corner of the ice at Mellon Arena, the Montreal Canadiens playoff hopes may very well have gone down with him.

Markov was hurt a little over 11 minutes into the Canadiens Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night and Montreal never recovered, losing 6-3 in Game 1.

Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin provided no update on Markov's condition, saying he will be evaluated on Saturday.

"First of all we don't (know) if we've lost him yet, we just didn't have him tonight," said Marc-Andre Bergeron, who moved back to defence from forward when Markov was hurt. "I don't think I need to say how much Andrei means to this team."

Just after letting go of a pass up ice Markov was drilled by Penguins super-pest Matt Cooke with a clean hit, sending the Canadiens defenceman sprawling awkwardly into the boards.

Markov remained on the ice for several minutes as Scott Gomez went after Cooke at centre ice. Markov was eventually helped off the ice, putting no weight on his right leg.

"I didn't even see it," Gomez said. "When you see a teammate go down, it's one of those things. You react."

The Canadiens have not played very well without their No. 1 defenceman this season, posting a 14-20-3 record in the games he's missed. With Markov in the lineup the Canadiens are a very respectable 25-13-7.

Any long-term absence for Markov could mean increased minutes for rookie P.K. Subban, who opened the scoring at 4:30 of the first period Friday night with his first career NHL goal.

Subban took a wrist shot from the point that got through a maze of legs in front and may have been re-directed past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

"I didn't really know what happened," Subban said. "I just heard (Tomas Plekanec) screaming in front of the net so I assumed it got in somehow. Then he came out to me so I figured he didn't touch it. It was a good feeling to contribute, it got us off to a good start."

The Canadiens held off on calling Subban up from the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs until Game 6 of the first round to replace the illness-stricken Jaroslav Spacek, who has missed the last five games with a reported inner ear problem.

Spacek skated hard for an extended on-ice session Friday morning and may be ready to get back in the lineup for Game 2.

Subban was an AHL first-team all-star with 18 goals and 53 points, setting Bulldogs records for offensive production by a defenceman.

He played nearly 20 minutes in the game, almost twice as much as he played in both Games 6 and 7 of the first round.

"I was a bit tired out there today coming in, I've played a lot of hockey in a short period of time," Subban said. "But as soon as he got hurt, I knew that I was going to get some more ice time. It's funny how quickly you suck it up and you're not tired anymore."

Markov's absence is not the only source of concern for the Canadiens.

The two biggest factors that fuelled Montreal's huge first round upset of the Washington Capitals were the penalty kill and goaltending.

But both let the Canadiens down Friday night.

Jaroslav Halak was pulled in the third period after allowing his fifth goal of the night on the 18th shot he faced. It was a far cry from the goaltender that stopped 131 of 134 shots over the final three games of the first round.

"Jaro's been amazing for us and he did make some key saves," defenceman Josh Gorges said. "The ones we did give up are uncharacteristic of us. We can't expect him to save all of those."

Halak's struggles also didn't help the penalty killing unit, which entered the game having allowed only one goal on 33 chances to the Capitals, but allowed four goals on four opportunities to the Penguins.

"The first series is over and they have a totally different set-up," Gomez said. "First of all, we've got to stay out of the box, and I took that roughing penalty. But second of all we've got to clear (the puck). We can't get it out and it's in the back of the net."

But in spite of everything that went wrong, the Canadiens were only down two goals with 7:31 to play in regulation until Pittsburgh?s Bill Guerin scored into an empty net with just under 49 seconds left.

So perhaps things aren't quite as dire as they seem.

"I think overall, besides our penalty kill, we played a pretty strong game against a team we knew would come out fired up," Gorges said. "At 5-on-5, I thought we played good hockey tonight, we won a lot of battles, we did a lot of good things. We just made a few mental mistakes. There might have been a little bit of fatigue from the last series."

Note: Canadiens winger Andrei Kostitsyn played only four shifts in the second period and one in the third. Martin said it was "disappointing" to watch Kostitsyn turn the puck over in his own end. . . Michael Cammalleri scored and he now has points in seven of Montreal's eight playoff games.


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