BOSTON -- Keith Ballard was the first Canuck on the ice for practice Wednesday morning. Perhaps he was a little excited about drawing into the lineup for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final?
"I'm not exactly sure on what's going to happen tonight," Ballard said initially. "Everyone is preparing as if they're playing. We'll see tonight."
Ballard was then asked about the possibility of playing in a Stanley Cup Final after missing the playoffs during his first five seasons in the NHL. It suddenly sounded pretty definitive that he was going to replace the suspended Aaron Rome along the blue line Wednesday night.
"It's very exciting," Ballard said. "It's something you've dreamed of since you were a kid, to have this opportunity. It's really awesome and I'm really looking forward to it."
The 27-year-old Ballard, who was acquired from the Florida Panthers during the offseason in a five-player trade, has played just nine postseason games. He was expected to provide some offensive punch from the blue line, but had just 2 goals and 5 assists in 65 regular-season games while missing 11 games with a knee injury and a concussion.
Ballard played the final two games of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks, finding his way into the lineup when defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Rome suffered injuries in a physical Game 3. He acquitted himself well in those two games, his first in more than three weeks.
With Rome suspended four games and fellow defenseman Dan Hamhuis potentially out for the remainder of the series with a lower-body injury, Ballard will transition from extra defenseman to someone coach Alain Vigneault will have to rely upon going forward.
"I think it’s a situation quite a few of us have been in, especially during this playoff run," Ballard said of playing nearly as much as he's been watching. "One of the things you can control is the attitude around the guys, how hard you work. You have to be able to be there to support your teammates."
While Ballard never said he was definitely playing, Kevin Bieksa discussed what to expect with Ballard as his defensive partner Wednesday night.
"He's a very good player. He's helped us all year," Bieksa said. "He's a great skater and moves the puck well. He's one of the best shot blockers in the League. He's been known to throw a hip into a few guys. We just need him to play his game and not do anything special."
The numbers weren't there for Ballard in the regular season, but he still possesses all the skills a defenseman needs to combat a tenacious forecheck like the one the Bruins employ. The ability to get the puck out of their own zone is something the Canucks can use after struggling on their breakouts in Game 3.
"Keith is very good at skating the puck. He's arguably our best skater on the team," Bieksa said. "He'll use his legs tonight and we'll wheel with it as much as possible."
The depth of the Canucks' blue line was one of their advantages coming into the Stanley Cup Final. It's an attribute that was born out of the litany of injuries they suffered during the regular season and will need to be a strength if they are going to win two more games against the Bruins.
"We have really good Ds on this team," defenseman Alexander Edler said. "We have a couple of them out, but the guys filling in have been stepping up and playing really good. We feel really comfortable with our Ds. I think we'll be OK."
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