PITTSBURGH – The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Washington Capitals without one of the top defensemen, and have pushed the defending Stanley Cup champions to at least a sixth game despite missing two of them.
Now they might have to try to survive without three.
Hal Gill did not play in the final 17 minutes of Game 5 at Mellon Arena on Saturday night. Montreal coach Jacques Martin classified Gill's ailment as a lower-body injury and said he would be re-evaluated. The Canadiens are already without Jaroslav Spacek (illness) and Andrei Markov (knee).
"Yeah, it is [a big loss]," Scott Gomez said. "The way he's playing, you're not going to replace him but the other guys stood up. What can you say – it is one of those years. We just kept going forward and the guys on D really picked it up. The way [Gill] has been playing has been great. We'll see what happens and I'm sure we'll find out later."
Gill has been paired with Josh Gorges, and the duo has done a commendable job of stifling two of the top players in the world in this postseason. Alex Ovechkin had 5 goals and 10 points for the Capitals, but 70 percent of those points came in two games -- and he had just 1 goal and 1 assist in the final three games of the series.
Sidney Crosby had a nice Game 1 in this Eastern Conference Semifinals with two primary assists, but he has just one point in the past four games and no goals in the series.
"Hal's been big for us – literally," Michael Cammalleri said of the 6-foot-7, 245-pound Gill. "I'm sure we'll try to get him back right away."
Without Gill for much of the third period and with his team down two goals, Martin kept rugged Ryan O'Byrne on the bench and went with four defensemen. O'Byrne had three short shifts in the period and none in the final 12 minutes.
That meant heavy minutes for Gorges (25:27), Marc-Andre Bergeron (23:15), PK Subban (22:52). Bergeron, who was on the ice for 10:21 in the final period, had three shots on net – two on a power-play in the final minutes of the contest.
The most Subban, a 20-year-old rookie, has played in this postseason was 23:17 in Game 2 of this series. He might have been able to eclipse that tonight if not for a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass from his own end in the third period.
If Gill cannot play in Game 6, his replacement could be one of the walking wounded currently on the roster. Martin has said Spacek is progressing but not ready to play; however, he has been skating for several days now. There were multiple reports during the day Saturday that Montreal is trying to find a brace for Markov's injured knee that would allow him to play soon.
If none of those three is available Monday for an elimination game, the Canadiens may look to their American Hockey League affiliate again for Game 6 reinforcements. Subban was recalled for Game 6 against Washington, and the Canadiens could turn to Yannick Weber, a third-round draft pick in 2007 who had 16 goals for Hamilton and played three games for Montreal this season.
"In the playoffs you are always going to face obstacles, but we win and lose as a team," Dominic Moore said. "Everyone has got to pull together."