MONTREAL - When your shutdown defenceman is checking a bag and not Sidney Crosby, there’s a problem.
Montreal Canadiens defenceman Hall Gill - the biggest reason the Pittsburgh Penguins captain remains without a goal in the Eastern Conference semifinal heading into Game 6 Monday night - was at the Pittsburgh Airport Sunday morning, getting down and dirty with the rest of the common folk and flying commercial.
Apparently his pay grade doesn’s warrant the private jet treatment teammate Andrei Markov received after injuring his knee after Game 1. Markov was hustled home after the game.
So there was Gill at the airport Sunday. When you’re 6-foot-7, it would be hard to travel incognito; even less so when you’re wearing a grey Montreal Canadiens t-shirt and track pants.
Gill was the airport with Canadiens team physician Dr. David Mulder - and not back in Montreal with his teammates who had chartered home after the game - because he sustained a cut to the back of his leg after he was stepped on by Penguins winger Chris Kunitz early in the third period of the Penguins 2-1 win in Game 5 Saturday night which gave the Pens a 3-2 series lead.
Gill’s status for his flight was confirmed, his place in the Canadiens lineup for their fourth win-or-play-golf elimination game of these playoffs much less so.
“I hope so,” he said when asked if he thought he could play Monday night. “It’s only a cut. We’ll see.”
Gill’s condor-like presence on the blue line, along with partner Josh Gorges, was a big reason why the Canadiens were able to eliminate the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in seven games in the first round and come pretty close to battling the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins to a near standstill in this series.
With or without Gill Monday night, the Canadiens will have to win to force a seventh and deciding game back in Pittsburgh Wednesday night.
There could be a saving grace for the Habs if Gill can’t play. Veteran defenceman Jaroslav Spacek, out since early in the first round with a virus that apparently left him with bouts of vertigo, is rumoured to have been cleared by the medical staff to play. Leaving him out of the lineup for Game 5 was the decision of Canadiens coach Jacques Martin.
Spacek skated at the club’s practice facility in Brossard, Que., Sunday and looks ready.
Then there’s Markov. As reported by QMI Agency, there was talk in the Habs camp before Game 5 that he might be able to play if a brace could be made ready for his knee, which sustained suspected ACL damage early in Game 1. A source close to the situation said a lot would depend on how Markov’s knee responded to the light skate he had in track suit Sunday. If the swelling was not prohibitive, playing is not out of the question, though his official status remains out indefinitely.
“It all depends on how it responds. If you can get the swelling out, you can tape it up. Everybody’s body is different. He wouldn’t be the first guy to play with a damaged ACL,” a source close to the situation told QMI Agency before Game 5.
The Canadiens found a way to win three times after they were down 3-1 to the Capitals, but the jittery Caps had no clue how to finish them off.
The Penguins are like Blake (Alec Baldwin) in the dark and biting sales flick Glengarry Glen Ross, in that they know to always be closing.
The Habs can’t win the Cadillac El Dorado Monday night, but they could get fired.