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Canucks defensemen rally around fallen teammate

by Dan Rosen
CHICAGO -- The word "gutsy" kept coming up in the Vancouver Canucks' dressing room late Sunday night.

Roberto Luongo used it. So did Shane O'Brien and several other Canucks. They were all marveling at the effort and, well, guts the five remaining defensemen showed over the final 40 minutes of their 4-1 win in Game 5.

"Guys stepped up and played some big minutes," Luongo said.

When Sami Salo, a staple in Vancouver's top four, was lost at the end of the first period after taking a shot to his midsection, the Canucks entered the first intermission knowing they would be without one of their minute munchers, a key man in all facets of the game.

The good news is they already had a 2-0 lead thanks to goals by defensemen, Christian Ehrhoff and Kevin Bieksa. But now, guys like O'Brien would have to step up and play big minutes. Bieksa would have to skate more than usual. Even Alexander Edler, Vancouver's ice-time leader, would be subject to a few extra shifts.

The forwards would have to backcheck like crazy to help out the depleted defense and everybody would have to stay disciplined in order to stay out of penalty trouble.

Mission accomplished.

"The boys stepped up huge," said O'Brien, who logged a series-high 19:29 after playing roughly half that in Game 4.

O'Brien even required stitches halfway through the game after Dustin Byfuglien's stick blade caught him between the eyes on a follow-through. He missed only enough time to get patched up and finished the game with a plus-2 rating, as well as three hits.

"Well, I was telling him when he came back to the bench, 'I know Grapes (broadcaster Don Cherry) is going to love the blood, but put your hand on it and cover it up,' because he was leaking pretty good," said Bieksa, who scored twice in Game 5. "I had no doubt that he would come back. I knew he'd be back in a couple of minutes. That's the kind of guy he is."

The word on Salo was not good after the game.

He was wheeled out of the arena on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to a Chicago area hospital for further evaluation. TSN was reporting that he suffered a ruptured testicle when Duncan Keith's point shot struck him with mere seconds left in the first period.

If that's the case -- the Canucks would not confirm anything Sunday night -- Salo is most likely out for Game 6 Tuesday night and probably beyond.

"Losing a guy like Sami Salo, you never want that to happen," O'Brien said, "but it gives you an opportunity to play a little bit more hockey and if you ask any player the more you play the better you feel. It was good."

Aaron Rome or Nolan Baumgartner are the likely candidates to replace Salo, but now it'll be fascinating to see if the Canucks can rebound from such a big blow. Remember, they've already been playing without the concussed Willie Mitchell, another minute-muncher and physical defenseman, since mid-January.

"Whoever is in the lineup, we have had depth all year and we do the best with who we have," Bieksa said.

Whoever is in the lineup better play with the same type of courage that the rest of the guys showed in Sunday night.

"It was a gutsy effort," Luongo said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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