The Montreal Canadiens
and Pittsburgh Penguins
both lost key players with injuries in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series on Friday night.
The Canadiens lost their best defenseman, Andrei Markov
, when Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke
caught him with a solid hit in the corner of the Montreal zone late in the first period. Markov fell to the ice, writhing in pain as play went in the other direction.
Markov was helped off the ice by a trainer and never really put much pressure on his right leg as he left the Mellon Arena ice. He was ruled out of the game with a lower-body injury and his status for Game 2 is up in the air.
In the second period, the Penguins lost Staal with an undisclosed injury when he and Montreal rookie defenseman P.K. Subban caught skates. Staal skated slowly to the bench, went right to the locker room and didn't return.
Any long-term absence by Markov could severely damage the Canadiens' hopes of upsetting the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Markov is the Habs' most reliable defenseman, averaging a team-high 26:26 in their first-round series against Washington. He is a key to both the Canadiens' power play and penalty kill, which was magnificent in killing 32 of 33 man-down situations in the first round.
The Habs were angered to see one of their best players lying prone on the ice and Scott Gomez
went after Cooke at center ice before whistle ended the play. Gomez took an extra roughing penalty in the ensuing fracas to put Montreal shorthanded.
It didn't take long for Pittsburgh to make Montreal pay for the indiscretion as they scored their second power-play goal of the night to take a 2-0 lead. Staal used a sliding block attempt by Brian Gionta
to partially screen Jaroslav Halak
and beat him high to the glove side at 13:27.
Montreal's penalty kill looked a little hesitant without Markov -- Staal's goal was the second one allowed in as many attempts Friday night after the Canadiens killed 32 of 33 man-short situations against Washington.
Pittsburgh added another power-play tally in the second minute of the second period to take a 3-0 lead. Kris Letang
got that goal after Sidney Crosby
created a turnover with some puck-hounding in the offensive zone.
Montreal dressed seven defensemen for Friday's game and were able to move Marc-Andre Bergeron
into the rotation. He had been taking infrequent shifts as a fourth-line forward and also manned the point on the Canadiens' only power play of the first period.