BOSTON - If Andrei Markov is anywhere near being able to play, now is the time it needs to happen.
Apparently, his first on-ice session Thursday was a setback, but his skate on Friday didn't make it any worse. When a team is clutching at any positive news it can get, that has to qualify.
Without Markov, the Habs are now 6-17-2 since the lockout. This year alone, they’re 0-5-1 since Markov went down on a hit by Mikhail Grabovski in Toronto, and it’s hard to imagine the Canadiens beating the Bruins without their best player on the ice.
Saturday night’s game actually started out pretty well, with the Canadiens controlling much of the play early and outshooting the Bruins 8-2 over the first nine minutes or so.
But then Sergei Kostitsyn, inserted into the lineup to provide some offensive spark, put a halt to the Canadiens momentum with a bone-headed neutral zone hooking penalty.
The Bruins, of course, capitalized immediately.
“Any kind of positive play we had was halted by the penalties we took,” said Christopher Higgins, who took a high-sticking penalty in the offensive zone late in the first.
In fact, four of the Bruins five power plays came off neutral or offensive zone penalties, and that gave Boston three goals because their power play was lethal.
The Bruins, to a man, credit Mark Recchi and his willingness to stand in front of the net and stay there for their success on the power play.
“Recchi’s the big key,” said Bruins defenceman Dennis Wideman. “He screens the goalie and tips more pucks than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
So here’s an idea, how about moving Recchi from that spot? Seems simple, no? I understand you’re not allowed to cross-check guys out of the way anymore, but often times the Habs defence just lets Recchi stand there. Shouldn’t someone, anyone, make some attempt to move him?
Another idea might be to stop taking those useless penalties.
“We’re going to have to play better,” Bob Gainey said. “And part of that is playing smart.”
Gainey might want to take some of his own advice.
I was all for playing Sergei Kostitsyn to see if he could provide a spark to Andrei, who was simply comatose in Game 1. But even though Tomas Plekanec was a total non-factor in the first game, or in the last two weeks for that matter, was it better to only dress three centres?
Or how about dressing Francis Bouillon when it was clear that prior to the game he wasn’t too sure of his ability to compete at a playoff level? He never came out and said it, but he was not very convincing when talking to reporters two hours prior to the game.
There are a few things moving forward the Habs can try to use to their advantage in Game 3: First, Milan Lucic will likely be suspended for trying to re-arrange Maxim Lapierre’s face with his stick. His game misconduct was switched to a match penalty after the game, which usually carries an automatic suspension unless King Bettman decides otherwise. Lucic is a big momentum-changer with his physical play, and Boston often feeds off his energy.
Second: the Bell Centre should be a rocking building Monday and the Bruins openly admit that’s a tough building to play in, especially in the playoffs. Mike Komisarek appealed to the fans to make it so, but I have a feeling the place won’t be quite as jumping as usual. It’s hard to be cocky when you have little confidence in your team.
Third: the referees are almost always influenced by the crowd in Montreal. Though some people may think otherwise, they weren’t influenced in Boston. Every one of those penalty calls were in fact penalties, and I really didn’t see that many opportunities for the zebras to send a Bruin to the box on his own.
But the most important thing, by far, is the return of Markov. I don’t know if it’s possible, and I’m wondering if Gainey would be more cautious with him than he was with Bouillon because of the latter’s free agent status. But to have any chance whatsoever of sending this series back to Boston – let alone winning it – Markov has to play Monday night.
Game 4 would be too late, because the series would be over already.