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Canucks could have Salo back on blue line

by John Manasso / Vancouver Canucks

Once again the composition of the Vancouver Canucks' defense corps is a subject shrouded in mystery entering Game 4 of their Western Conference Semifinal against the Predators here on Thursday at Bridgestone Arena.

Judging by the traditional method, injured veteran Sami Salo could return to the lineup, as he was off the ice following the Canucks' morning skate before both Keith Ballard, a healthy scratch in Game 3 for the third time in the playoffs, and Andrew Alberts, who played in Game 3 but was minus-1 in only 12:02 after sitting out five of the previous seven playoff games as a healthy scratch.

Yet the Canucks' opacity on the matter was impenetrable.

Salo said his status was unchanged from Tuesday but said, "I'm still day-to-day. We'll analyze tonight."

Asked how he was feeling he deadpanned, "I'm feeling pretty good. It's nice weather outside."

As he also did before Game 3, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said Salo was a "game-time decision." He also withheld any information on what the composition of his lineup might be.

However, Vigneault might have unwittingly given a clue to Salo's health when he was asked what Ballard has to do to get back in the lineup.

"You know what? Right now we've got eight healthy defensemen and I feel the six we're using tonight give us the best chance to win," Vigneault said. "We've got good depth there and we're going to use it."

The Canucks are only carrying eight defensemen and the top four -- Kevin Bieksa (28:42 of time on ice in Game 3), Christian Ehrhoff (27:25), Alexander Edler (27:22) and Dan Hamhuis (27:14) -- are playing the overwhelming majority of the minutes.

In Game 3, Vigneault mixed up his pairs at times during the game. Aaron Rome, a stay-at-home type, started out on the third pair but ended up playing some with Edler. Vigneault might have made the change to provide more defensive stability with Edler after he was stripped of the puck behind his net in the first period, leading to a shorthanded goal by Nashville. It's also possible that Vigneault did not have great trust in his third pair, a comment he hinted at prior to Game 3 when he chose to scratch Ballard in favor of Alberts.

"I played with everybody, so it's nothing really new for us," Rome said of his new partners in Game 3. "It's just a matter of getting reacquainted out there. Started the night with Andrew and they decided to make the change and played most of the rest of the game with Alex.

"We're familiar with each other so we've been together most of us for two years."

Through three games, this series has been extremely tightly played. One goal has decided every game, with two in overtime, and the teams have combined for only nine goals in the series.

That puts more pressure on defensemen not to make mistakes.

"Yeah, for sure," Rome said. "We knew it was going to be a tight series, so for us as d-men and goaltenders we have to be as stingy as we can. One goal can decide a game and could decide the series."
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