PITTSBURGH -- As if Montreal's Game 1 performance on Friday night wasn't painful enough, the Canadiens' misery was compounded when top defenseman Andrei Markov suffered a game-ending injury less than 12 minutes into the game.
Not only did Montreal have to contemplate the many things that went wrong in a 6-3 loss at Mellon Arena to the defending champions to open this best-of-7 Eastern Conference Semifinals series, but the Canadiens also have to contemplate going forward without a player that has been eating more than 26 minutes a game for the team this postseason.
The Canadiens were offering little in the way of updates after Friday's game, but Markov had to be helped off the ice by a trainer after being checked heavily into the boards by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke and landing awkwardly on his left leg. There would appear to be a good possibility that Markov will not be available when this series resumes with Sunday afternoon's Game 2 here.
"It was a lower-body injury," said Jacques Martin, the Montreal coach. "He will be re-evaluated (Saturday)."
On the play, Cooke caught Markov with a solid hit in the corner the Montreal zone as the defenseman released an outlet pass. Markov immediately fell to the ice, writhing in pain, as play went in the other direction.
Markov is the Canadiens' most reliable defenseman, averaging a team-high 26:26 in the 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.
"Any time you lose one of the best D-man, not only on our team, but in the League, other guys have got to pick it up," said Scott Gomez, who went after Cooke on the play and drew a roughing penalty that turned into the second of Pittsburgh's four power-play goals. "You know you're not going to replace a guy like that. Everybody's got to pick up their game and I thought we did. We'll see what happens."
What happened Friday night is that rookie P.K. Subban, playing just his third postseason game, was given a ton more responsibility, playing almost 20 minutes. Plus, defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, used as a fourth-line forward and power-play specialist to start the game, was worked back into the defense rotation after Markov's injury.
"We had seven defensemen dressed, so it made it easier to play with six," Martin said. "Considering we were trailing all night, we were just trying to get some more offense from our back end."
So what happens if Markov is lost for a long period of time against a team loaded with offensive threats and a power play that is starting to show signs of being a true difference-maker? It's a scenario the Canadiens would prefer not to contemplate.
"It's a huge loss for us," said fellow defenseman Hal Gill. "We'll need to step up and fill some big shoes."