Updates at the bottom of this story.

News out of Montreal this morning is bitter-sweet for the Canadiens and their fans.

According to TSN, Hal Gill, who left Saturday’s game after suffering a cut to the back of his leg, is doubtful for tonight’s game.

Gill, along with defensive partner Josh Gorges, has been instrumental in limiting Sidney Crosby to just three assists in the first five games of the series.

“It’s a big loss, but we’ve done it all year where someone has to step in,” said veteran forward Brian Gionta. “Someone will have to take over that responsibility in the playoffs of being that top shut down guy.”

Spacek, meanwhile, is possible to return — though the chances of him filling the void left by Gill are slim. He has been out since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, battling an ear infection and a case of vertigo, which throws off his balance.

“I know a couple of players who retired from what I had. That scared me,” Spacek said.

Less likely to return is Anderi Markov, who suffered a torn ACL in Game 1. While there are reports that he is trying out a custom-made brace, his return tonight seems a longshot.

My Take

So as to keep news separate from opinion, I’ll add my two cents here.

Word is that PK Subban likely will fill in for Gill on the top pairing with Josh Gorges, while Spacek will be reunited with Roman Hamrlik. Ryan O’Byrne and Marc-Andre Bergeron will remain the third pairing, seeing limited icetime.

While Subban has been very noticable on the ice, he is in now way a replacement for Gill. If, in fact, he is on the top pairing and he gets matched against Crosby’s line, I fully expect Crosby to have a breakout game, registering several points.

Quite simply, Gill is a playoff warrior, who has a strong knack for shutting down the opposition’s top players. We saw this last year, when he was in Pittsburgh, and we’re seeing it this year through the first two rounds.

As for Spacek and Markov, both players have significant problems, and neither will be at or near 100 percent should they play.

To me, if either player returns to the lineup, it’s a strong indication that Jacques Martin is grasping for straws, knowing his team is in serious trouble.

And, when a coach relies on significantly injured players, the outcome generally isn’t in their favor.

11:18 Update

From Sam Kasan’s game day report on the Penguins web site:

“Markov skated on the ice early but did not participate in Montreal’s morning skate, meaning it is unlikely he will be in the lineup for Game 6.

“Blueliner Hal Gill was also absent for the morning portion of the skate but did get in some work on the ice in full gear. If Gill can’t play then Spacek could be inserted into the game in his place. Gill had suffered an injury in the third period of Game 5 that knocked him out of the game.

“Another interesting development was the insertion of Sergei Kostitsyn into the lines for the Canadiens morning skate. The Montreal forwards combinations were:”


11:55 Update

From Kasan:

“Habs coach Jacques Martin just spoke to the media. He said that Markov will not play in Game 6 and that both Spacek and Gill will be game-time decisions.”

“Hal’s status will be determined after the warmup,” Martin said. “We’ll see how he feels and whether he’s going to be playing or not will be decided at that time. It’s encouraging. It shows a lot of character on his part to get back last evening and get some treatment this morning. Then to try (to skate) a little bit this morning.”