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Markov, Staal out for Canadiens-Penguins Game 2

NHL.com @NHL

PITTSBURGH (AP) -They've gotten by without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, and Marc-Andre Fleury. What the Pittsburgh Penguins haven't done since emerging as one of the NHL's best teams three years ago is get by without Jordan Staal.

Now they must, and they know this won't be easy.

Perhaps as difficult as it is for the Montreal Canadiens to play without top defenseman Andrei Markov.

It's Game 2 of the Canadiens-Penguins series on Sunday, and two players who are largely responsible for their teams advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals will be missing.

Staal, one of the NHL's premier two-way players, is out indefinitely because of a severed tendon in his right foot. It appears likely he will miss at least the rest of a series Pittsburgh leads 1-0.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma denied Saturday that Staal is through for the season, but didn't drop any hints when he might return.

"You always rely on him," Penguins forward Max Talbot said. "He's a strength out there. He's a leader, and you can't replace a guy like that."

Until now, the Penguins haven't had to replace him. Staal has played in 358 consecutive games, counting the playoffs, never missing a NHL game except for being a healthy scratch once during his rookie season.

Staal's absence changes the Penguins lineup, their matchups and, too, their very personality. Or much like being without Markov alters the Canadiens.

The Canadiens were 14-20-3 without their best defenseman during the season, when Markov sat out for two months with severed tendons in his left foot. Now, he is out again due to an apparent right knee injury that occurred when he was checked by Matt Cooke during the first period of the Penguins' 6-3 victory in Game 1 on Friday.

Markov returned to Montreal on a private plane after the game to be examined by specialists, and he could miss at least the rest of the series.

The Canadiens planned to use Markov extensively against Crosby's line. Instead, that task falls to rookie defenseman P.K. Subban, who was inadvertently responsible for Staal's injury when the two collided during the second period.

"He stepped in and did a lot of good things for us, put in a lot of key minutes," defenseman Josh Gorges said of Subban. "Even when he was out there against Crosby, he did a great job of slowing him down."

Similarly, Staal's two-way play is partly why the Penguins are so difficult to beat in the postseason, going 8-2 in playoff series since 2007. A finalist for the Selke Trophy that is awarded for defensive excellence by a forward, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Staal almost always opposes a team's best line.

By doing so, Staal partly lessens his own ability to score - although he had 21 goals and 28 assists during the season - but frees up Crosby and Malkin to focus more on their offense.

"He's a big part of our team, and this isn't easy to deal with," Crosby said.

The absence of Staal means that Crosby and Malkin won't get as many matchups against second- and third-line players. The translation: Maybe not as many chances to score, either.

"Jordan was a guy we looked to, on most occasions, (to put) against their best line or best centerman," Bylsma said. "Sidney Crosby's line will see a little more time probably against the other team's top line. So it will change our matchups."

Talbot, who scored both Pittsburgh goals in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in Detroit last season, shifted from playing on Malkin's line to centering the No. 3 line after Staal was hurt. Craig Adams also filled in.

Without Markov, the Canadiens go from being major underdogs in a series they weren't expected to reach to being even less likely to advance.

Their penalty-killing unit that so throttled top-seeded Washington in the opening round, allowing only one goal on 33 Capitals power plays, gave up four goals on four chances against Pittsburgh in Game 1. And Jaroslav Halak, almost unbeatable while making 131 saves in Games 5-7 against the Capitals, was pulled after giving up five goals on 20 shots.

Unless the Canadiens can find a way to pull out Game 2, the best-of-seven series might not last nearly that long.

It would have helped if defenseman Jaroslav Spacek could have returned, but he has been sidelined by illness since Game 3 against Washington and won't play Sunday.

"Everyone's got to pick up their game," forward Scott Gomez said.

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