Defenceman Andrei Markov pulled on a Montreal Canadiens game sweater Saturday for the first time in 16 months against the Vancouver Canucks.
The 33-year-old Russian's return to action marked the end of a gruelling rehabilitation from two knee surgeries involving anterior cruciate ligament reconstructions. He earned a power-play assist in the Canadiens' 4-1 win.
There had been several setbacks during his recovery but Markov had been practising with the club — including contact — for the last few weeks.
Markov, who did not talk to the media before the game, was given the green light by team doctors to join the active roster on Saturday morning but his appearance in the lineup was a game-time decision.
“We'll figure out best way to manage his ice based on how the game is going and how he is feeling,” coach Randy Cunneyworth said after the morning skate.
“It's another step in the right direction for a guy we know is a very good player, but we don't want to throw too much on his plate.”
Markov's last game was at the Bell Centre on Nov. 13, 2010 against the Carolina Hurricanes. He missed 133 games over two seasons since injuring his knee in that contest.
Teammate Josh Gorges, who had season-ending surgery in January 2011 and didn't return until the start of this campaign, said Markov still has an uphill journey.
“I don't expect him to be at his 100 per cent best first game back after this long a break,” said Gorges, a fellow defenceman. “The timing of things has to come back, but mentally he just has to get out there, get a couple of shifts early, keep them short, keep them quick, get the feel for the puck, get the feel for the timing.
“Probably the best thing to do would be take a hit, take a big hit, and to know that he can keep going, his knee will be fine and mentally he can overcome that obstacle and he'll be fine.”