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Northeast: Markov's return sparks Canadiens

Wednesday, 12.23.2009 / 10:22 AM / Division Notebooks

By James Murphy - NHL.com Correspondent

Andrei Markov had not played since the season opener at Toronto back on October 1. In that game, the Montreal Canadiens defenseman had his ankle tendon severed by the skate of teammate Carey Price and was ruled out until at least late January or early February.
 
But there was the Habs' alternate captain and defensive backbone and power-play leader on the ice at Nassau Coliseum Saturday night, scoring 2 power-play goals to help Montreal snap a five-game winless skid.
 
"He's an all-star defenseman that has great vision and moves the puck well," coach Jacques Martin said. "It's nice to get a top player back. Those guys are hard to replace. His execution was really outstanding."
 
Markov, who looks like he'll be running the point on the Russian power play at the Olympics, also had an assist on Marc-Andre Bergeron's game-tying goal in a 4-3 overtime win at Atlanta Monday. He now has three points in two games.
 
Bergeron filled in admirably for Markov on the power play while Markov recovered. But just because Markov is back, that doesn’t mean Bergeron won’t be given the chance to continue on the power play. Bergeron delivered again Monday night, scoring the game-tying goal on the power play with 1:45 left in regulation and then winning the game 2:23 into overtime. But Bergeron paid the price on the game-winner as he went barreling into the net and suffered whiplash. He was examined after the game and luckily only had a stiff neck.

Thomas finds his groove -- Tim Thomas has been the first to acknowledge that he hasn't been the goalie he was last season when he bailed the Bruins out on numerous occasions, leading Boston to the second round of the playoffs and winning the Vezina Trophy. Thomas hasn't been bad this season, but he just hasn't been where he's needed to be. Thomas missed six games with an upper body injury and just hasn't found his groove.
 
Heading into Monday's game at Ottawa, Thomas had not won since Dec. 2, going 0-2-2, but Bruins coach Claude Julien noticed something familiar about Thomas prior to his 2-0, 29-save performance Monday morning.
 
"At some point, you've got to have that confidence and be determined to turn things around," Julien said. "This morning when I talked to him, I said, 'A winning streak starts with a win. Why not start tonight?' He seemed pretty keen and pretty determined this morning. He was loose in a way that you felt he was going to have a good one. I felt good about having him in this game just by what I saw in him today."
 
Julien's hunch was correct as Thomas returned to the form that Julien and his teammates became so accustomed to last season.
 
"He's been struggling in the win column lately, and it's been hard, obviously, on his morale," Julien said. "Somehow we felt this was a great opportunity for him to continue to play well against Ottawa and give him a chance to play well. He did. He was outstanding tonight. He played the kind of game we know he can. Hopefully he can build on that."

Vanek's frustrated -- Sabres sniper Thomas Vanek is not used to watching games from the press box. That's why, as he told the Buffalo News recently, missing the last two games with an abdominal injury has been so frustrating for him.

"I hate missing games," said Vanek, who took a Tyler Myers' shot in his mid-section last Friday against Toronto. "I'm not a big fan of it. My theory, I guess, was as long as I could walk I could play. But Lindy came to me and said it's not good enough, which is tough to argue. I didn't feel right out there, but at the same time it's tough not to play."

Part of Vanek's goal-scoring success is his willingness to go to the dirty areas in front of the net and pay the price for a goal. He won't change that approach and he doesn't plan on wearing extra equipment to protect himself for fear that may slow him down.

"You can wear different things, but it's about how comfortable you can get. I've never worn anything extra," Vanek said. "I've never backed down from a beating and stuff. It's something I actually enjoy. Bumps and bruises, they're part of the game, and I understand that. I've gotten hit there before in the past, and it's never turned out this way. I don't know if the shot was that hard, or if it's the way I positioned myself. It just got me perfectly, I guess."

The Sabres have gone 1-0-1 in his absence.

Forward Patrick Kaleta has missed two of the last three games after suffering a neck injury last Wednesday against the Senators.

Luck turning for 'Monster' -- Goaltender Jonas Gustavsson has had plenty of hard luck since signing with the Maple Leafs this summer. He has had two minor heart surgeries to correct an abnormal heartbeat and also battled a groin injury. That's why it was so satisfying for Gustavsson and the Leafs when he had a "Monster" game, shutting out the Bruins, 2-0, with a 25-save performance Saturday night.
 
"Obviously, he has some character," coach Ron Wilson said. "Having had the two ablations (surgery to restore a normal heart beat), plus a groin injury. He's worked hard and he hasn't let his medical setbacks bother him."
 
Gustavsson was thrilled.
 
"It's not like this happens every day," he said. "I'm so happy to be back, to be home and getting my first shutout against the Bruins."
 
He was also happy his team got their first win against the Bruins, who had outscored them 12-4 in their previous two meetings this season.
 
"It's pretty big for me, the first shutout, but in the end we won and that's what counts. ... If I get the shutout it's not as important as that," Gustavsson said.

Around the Northeast -- Senators forward Mike Fisher, who got his 300th career point Saturday with an assist on an Anton Volchenkov goal, confirmed he is now engaged to country music star Carrie Underwood. "Yeah, it's true," Fisher said. "We're both obviously excited and very happy." … Since publicly acknowledging he requested a trade to GM Bob Gainey, Jaroslav Halak has helped skyrocket his value. Halak made 40 saves in Montreal's 3-2 win over the Islanders Saturday and Monday had an amazing 47-save performance in the 4-3 overtime win at Atlanta. … Defenseman Paul Mara took a slap shot off his left wrist Monday night and was to be reevaluated Tuesday. … Bruins defenseman Derek Morris has missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury. Fellow blueliner Dennis Wideman also missed two games with an undisclosed injury, but returned to play at Ottawa Monday night. … Andy Wozniewski and Adam McQuaid were recalled from Providence in their absence. … Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta has missed two of the last three games after suffering a neck injury last Wednesday against the Senators. … Center Matt Stajan was in the lineup after being on the receiving end of a thunderous open-ice hit by Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk Saturday night. Stajan claimed to only have a stiff neck the day after. … Viktor Stalberg hurt his shoulder in Monday night's 3-2 overtime loss to Buffalo and did not practice on Tuesday.


Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic