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Canucks weigh options on defense

by Dan Rosen
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Vancouver has three healthy defensemen hoping for a chance to fill two open spots, now that as injuries to Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome will likely keep both blueliners out of Game 4 Sunday afternoon.

No matter who draws in for the Canucks -- the options are veterans Keith Ballard and Andrew Alberts along with rookie Chris Tanev -- he will be looking to make good on an opportunity that didn't exist 24 hours ago.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault would not confirm who would play, but he used the word "probably" when asked about Ballard and said Tanev was brought to San Jose from Vancouver Saturday morning because they needed a seventh defensemen for insurance purposes. Alberts also seemed to believe that he was going to play even though he said he has not been told anything as of yet.

"It's not an ideal situation to come in like that when two guys that have been playing real well for us go down, but it's been the same story all year," Ballard said. "We have to use our depth again and if it happens I'm excited to get back in."

Ehrhoff was injured with 5:40 to play in the first period of Game 3 when Sharks forward Jamie McGinn hit him with a shoulder-to-shoulder blow. Rome was leveled by McGinn in the third period and suffered what many believe is a significant injury, though Vigneault cited club policy when he refused to update Rome's status after Saturday's practice at Sharks Ice.

McGinn was issued a five-minute boarding major and a game misconduct for that hit and the Canucks scored two power play goals to make it 4-3. However, the NHL decided Saturday that there would be no supplementary discipline, meaning that McGinn can play in Game 4.

"I do believe that as a group we've dealt with a lot of injuries this year. We've been able to handle it real well," Vigneault said. "Right now I'm confident that we're going to do the same thing. One of the things that we have given ourselves is more depth on defense.  We've really worked at making sure that the guys that weren't in the lineup were staying ready and they knew that at one point or another we might need them down the road. Whoever we use (Sunday), I'm confident they're going to do real well for us."

Ballard, though, is the truly interesting story because he has had a rocky first season in Vancouver and he admitted Vigneault likely doesn't have a lot of faith in him right now. Ballard is making $4.2 million this season and will for the following four as well, but he has been a healthy scratch in nine of 16 playoff games, including seven in a row.

"I don't know. I have to play well and we'll see," Ballard said when asked if he thinks Vigneault has lost his faith in him. "Ultimately I have had a lot of ups and downs this year and I don't think I've been nearly as consistent as I need to be. When you're somewhere for one year and you have ups and downs like that, inconsistent play, I think that's a completely normal reaction."

Vigneault said he has faith in Ballard, but he has played a smaller role with the Canucks because, "we feel that there are some guys right now that are playing better than him.

"He's got an opportunity probably (Sunday) to step in and show us what he can do," Vigneault continued. "We're confident that he'll have a good game if we need him."

Tanev is the other interesting storyline to follow, especially if Vigneault chooses to play him.

He's a 21-year-old rookie who has obviously never sniffed a chance to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs until now, but he played in 29 regular-season games with the Canucks and had 1 assist. He recently finished playing in the Calder Cup Playoffs with the AHL Manitoba Moose, and said that playoff experience will help him if he gets in.

"I'm definitely confident, but it's playoffs so it's faster, it's tougher and it's more physical," Tanev said. "If I get the chance, great, but if not I'll be rooting the guys on. It's definitely a dream come true."

Tanev said he received a call from management following Friday night's game and was on a plane at 7:30 Saturday morning. The Canucks couldn't get him a direct flight to San Jose so he had to transfer through Portland and due to a delay he made it to Sharks Ice 20 minutes before practice began.

"For a young man coming in, showed a lot of poise, a lot of confidence with the puck, and played over 20 games with us," Vigneault said. "He was really effective during the regular season. I guess he had some really good playoffs also with Manitoba."

Alberts would give Vigneault a big, physical body. He is 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds and has played in three games this postseason.

"You just gotta think simple, simple, simple," Alberts told when asked what his mindset has to be if he plays. "Once you try to do too much, try to be too aggressive or try to make a big hit you get out of your element. Emotions are running high so you just have to control everything."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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