Canadiens’ defense reeling from injuries heading into must-win Game 6 against Penguins

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Penguins look to end Canadiens’ Cinderella run

MONTREAL — In a playoff series where neither team has won consecutive games, the Montreal Canadiens need to begin a two-game streak in Game 6 against Pittsburgh to continue their surprising bid for a 25th Stanley Cup.

And with the Penguins fashioning a huge home win in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead, the reigning Cup champions want to take full advantage of their first opportunity to close out the Eastern Conference semifinal Monday night at Bell Centre.

“They’ve won three, we’ve won two, and it could have been easily the reverse,” Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said Sunday. “I mean, it’s been an outstanding series. You’ve got some great players and so I think that we’ve just got to continue battling, realizing that we don’t have a second chance. (Monday) night, it’s do or die.”

Montreal’s injury-depleted corps of defensemen was dealt its latest blow when Hal Gill was forced to leave Saturday night’s game after he was sliced on the back of his left leg by Pittsburgh center Chris Kunitz’s skate.

Gill remained in Pittsburgh overnight for treatment. He flew back to Montreal with team physician Dr. David Mulder on Sunday.

“What he has done for the Canadiens this year in the playoffs is not a surprise to us,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who gave his players a day off before flying to Montreal.

Gill, who left Pittsburgh as a free agent and signed with Montreal last summer, was put on the ice by Bylsma for the final play of the Penguins’ 2-1 win in Detroit in Game 7 of last year’s finals.

“We knew we were playing a guy who had won four series last year as a shutdown guy,” Bylsma said. “He has been all of that. He has been all of the 6-foot-7 that he is out on the ice.”

Andrei Markov, who has been sidelined since suffering a right knee injury in Game 1, was dressed in a track suit as he tested his skating ability at the Canadiens’ suburban practice facility Sunday. Paul Mara, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and hasn’t played since Jan. 22, skated with Markov and was dressed in a full uniform.

Jaroslav Spacek also practiced after missing his ninth straight playoff game Saturday because of an undisclosed virus.

“I don’t really want to talk about it,” Spacek said. “It was the kind of virus that hit me in the wrong spot. It’s getting really, really good right now and that’s the reason that I’m getting close.”

Spacek, who made the trip to Pittsburgh for Game 5 along with Markov, is the most likely to return Monday, though none of the other three — Gill and Markov included — were ruled out by Martin.

“Probably when we lost Andrei Markov in Game 1 people would have said, ‘They have no chance now,’” Martin said. “We came back, we showed some resilience, we’ve faced adversity all through the season and this is another time that we have to pull up our sleeves and be ready for the challenge.”

The task of winning two straight do-or-die games against Pittsburgh is a daunting one, indeed.

Eighth-seeded Montreal overcame a 3-1 series deficit in the first round against Washington, winning three in a row against the President’s Trophy-winning Capitals to knock out one of the Penguins’ expected challengers for the Cup.

“We expect desperation on their part, and we have to make sure that we are prepared to play our best game of the series,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said following Saturday night’s 2-1 win at Mellon Arena.

Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar scored first-period goals and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 32 shots.

Fresh from regaining the upper hand in the series, the Penguins were already looking ahead to an opportunity to close out the Canadiens on Monday night.

“We’re not going to show up in Montreal and be intimidated by the crowd,” Letang said. “We’re going to show up like we did in Ottawa and play the right way and play hard and physical.”

Fleury became the first goalie to shut out Montreal on home ice in the playoffs in 27 years in Game 3. He made 18 saves in the Penguins’ 2-0 win in Game 3, ending the Canadiens’ streak of 118 home playoff games without being held scoreless.

“Every game that we played there was a tough, close game and that’s what we expect,” Fleury said. “For sure we are going to give everything to close it down.”

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