Before the media could get in the first question to Andrei Markov about his recovery from a freak laceration that could have ended his season here on Oct. 1, he grabbed the skate that was dangling precariously above his stall and secured it to the peg.
When you've already missed three months because of a rogue blade slashing your ankle tendon, there's no need to tempt fate again. The Canadiens' star defenceman returned to the Toronto last night for the fourth game of his accelerated comeback.
Markov was 18 minutes into the season-opening 4-3 win over the Leafs when teammate Carey Price's goal skate tore into him during action around the Montreal crease. He was operated on that night.
One of the first to visit Markov in the hospital was ex-teammate Mike Komisarek, who signed with the Leafs in the summer.
"I told the doc to take care of him," Komisarek said with a laugh. "He's a tremendous worker and he's healed pretty quickly. I stay in touch with him and talk a lot with him, but there are no friends out there."
"I've always said he's one of the best defencemen in the league. The key is to get him off of his game, get in his face, take away his time and space, make him feel uncomfortable and finish your check on him. A guy such as that has tremendous poise and you don't want to be puck-watching with him, waving your stick at him.
"If you fall for his head fakes, he's always in the passing or shooting position and he can make you look silly out there."
Markov's comeback began with a two-goal game against the Islanders on Dec. 19 and he had four points in three games before last night, breathing life back ionto the Montreal power play, which was 8-for-13. He was added to the Russian Olympic team a couple of days ago after fears he was lost until at least February and would miss the Vancouver games.
"He's sparked our team, not only on the power play, but 5-on-5," coach Jacques Martin said. "He makes a great first pass.
"You never know how to establish timelines (about lengthy injuries) and it was an unsual laceration. But it's nice to see him back."
The Canadiens and Leafs split the next two games in which Markov didn't play, with Toronto shutting out the Habs 3-0 on Dec. 1. In that game, Toronto netminder Jonas Gustavsson departed with an irregular heart beat after one period and Joey MacDonald finished the shutout.
"You feel all the people in the stands are excited and there's lots of talk about the teams," Gustavsson said of playing the Habs.