The wait is over. Nous honorons le retour du roi!
OK, maybe he isn't exactly royalty, but there is no doubt that the Canadiens have missed the presence of Andrei Markov since he was knocked out of the line up in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semi Finals last year. On April 30th, while attempting to play the puck in the corner, Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins hit Markov into the boards, and it was clear immediately that there was something seriously wrong.
Within a short period of time, Habs Nation fans were greeted with the terrible news. A torn ACL that would keep him out of the line-up till Christmas of the 2010-2011 season. Since that announcement, fans and reporters alike have speculated on how the defense would align without him; criticized the Power Play numbers that lacked due to the missing Assistant Captain; and constantly guessed at the date of his return to the line-up.
So it all comes down tonight. Markov is back and there is a huge cheer going up (as well as a distinct sigh of relief) from the fans and supporters of one of the most storied franchises in sports history.
A lot will be riding on the shoulders of Andrei the Giant - not only tonight, but growing steadily as the season moves forward. He has always been a calm and steady hand on and off the ice. His defensive capabilities are spectacular, his leadership is insurmountable, and his ability to move the puck and make plays on the PP, are what has made the Power Play tick in previous seasons.
So as the hour draws closer, and the Bell Center crowd (as well as all the Canadiens fans watching around the world) gears up to welcome back one of their heroes, the goosebumps rise in anticipation. If this team can be seated in first place without Markov in the lineup - what will they be like now that he's back? We'll soon see!
Welcome back Andrei. We've missed you more than you can imagine. But I'm pretty sure you'll have an understanding with the ovation you receive as you step onto the ice tonight.