The last thing the Vancouver Canucks need in the wake of their first loss in these Stanley Cup Playoffs is the absence of a top defenseman in Sami Salo and perennial point-producer in Pavol Demitra.
But that was the case Monday when both Salo and Demitra were noticeable no-shows during the Canucks morning skate at United Center in preparation for Tuesday's matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of their Western Conference Semifinal (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS). According to Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault, Salo is "out" for Tuesday's game with a lower-body injury, while Demitra remains "questionable."
"He needs some maintenance," Vigneault said of Demitra.
The 20-goal scorer in 2008-09 was replaced in the lineup by Mason Raymond, alongside Ryan Kesler and Mats Sundin. Sundin skated hard and appeared strong during the entire 45-minute workout. Vigneault had Taylor Pyatt with Kyle Wellwood and Steve Bernier on another line. Pyatt rejoined the team for Monday's skate after a personal leave of absence.
"Without Demo (Demitra) there, it definitely hurts, skill wise, but Mason (Raymond) brings youthful energy and speed to the line that's good to have," Kesler said.
When pressed if Demitra's injury was a lower or upper-body issue, Vigneault replied, "I don't know." Demitra's status will be updated Tuesday morning.
The loss of Salo might be a huge blow for the Canucks on defense. This best-of-7 series is currently tied, 1-1, with Games 3 and 4 scheduled for United Center, where the exuberant Blackhawks have thrived this season. Salo has not only been playing a key role on the penalty-kill while chipping in with six points in 5 playoff games, but he's been itching to get beyond the second round of the playoffs for the first time in his 10-season career.
Salo connected for a power-play goal over the glove of Nikolai Khabibulin just 5:35 into Game 2 but was noticeably hurting upon his return to the bench. He was followed into the dressing room by a team doctor and did not return.
So now what?
Vigneault had Finnish veteran Ossi Vaananan skating with Salo's partner, Willie Mitchell, during Monday's skate. Vaananan has played in only four games since being claimed off waivers from Philadelphia more than two months ago, averaging a little over eight minutes in three of those contests -- Salo averages 21-plus minutes per game.
For Mitchell, playing with a new partner is nothing new. He skated with Kevin Bieksa his first season, Alex Edler his second season and Salo this campaign since signing with the Canucks in July 2006.
"I won't even know my defensive partner until five minutes before the game," Mitchell said. "The bingo balls will be going back there and they'll pick them out at some point. I played on the left and right side at one time or another all year and I'll probably be doing that a little bit more now."
Mitchell knows Salo's injury provides an opportunity for another player to step up and make a difference. Salo also missed Game 4 of his team's first-round series against the St. Louis Blues with an undisclosed lower body injury and was replaced by Vaananen.
"We're really comfortable with our defensive corps, there's a lot of depth there and it's just another opportunity for younger guys to play more minutes and for older guys maybe log a bit more and see more responsibilities," Mitchell said. "That's what it takes this time of year -- stepping in and making a difference."
Vigneault might also need to find a replacement on the point on the team's power-play, which has been hitting at a 20-percent efficiency this postseason. That responsibility could go to Edler, who took the team's hardest-shot title from Salo this season.
Without his partner in the lineup, Mitchell finished with a minus-3 rating in a Game 2 loss as the Hawks scored five unanswered goals in rallying from a 2-0 deficit. It's interesting to note that the Canucks lost 11 of 15 in early January when Salo was sidelined.
"Sami's a big part of our defensive corps, but we've played without him before and guys have stepped in and done a nice job," Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo said. "Vaananen is a steady D-man who plays very well. He doesn't try and do too much and sticks to the basics and you need guys like that on your team."Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer