SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - The Vancouver Canucks have prided themselves on their depth all year as they posted the best record in the regular season and made it through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
That depth could be severely tested in the Western Conference finals with the status of key defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome in doubt heading into Sunday's Game 4 against the San Jose Sharks.
The Canucks lead the series 2-1 but are coming off a 4-3 loss in Game 3 that could prove costlier than just one game if Ehrhoff and Rome are forced to miss time.
"As a group we've dealt with a lot of injuries this year," coach Alain Vigneault said. "We've been able to handle it real well. 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."
Ehrhoff and Rome both left Friday night's game early after hits by San Jose's fourth-line winger Jamie McGinn. McGinn was given a major boarding penalty and game misconduct for his third-period hit on Rome but didn't receive any additional discipline from the NHL on Saturday despite it being his second game misconduct in five postseason games.
McGinn said he is a clean player and that the hit that left Rome bloodied after he hit his head against the glass was simply a "freak" accident.
"I'm not trying to hurt anyone, but I think it helps our team a lot," McGinn said. "That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to get in on their defense and wear and tear them down."
The Canucks wouldn't address whether they thought McGinn deserved a suspension as their focus is on bouncing back from the Game 3 loss and getting two new defensemen ready if the regulars can't go. Ehrhoff and Rome both sat out practice Saturday, and Vigneault wasn't optimistic about their chances to play Sunday afternoon.
The Canucks have options at the back end with Keith Ballard and Andrew Alberts being tested veterans who have been healthy scratches this series. The Canucks also flew in defenseman Chris Tanev from Vancouver on Saturday as insurance.
"We have so much depth back there," goaltender Roberto Luongo said. "The guys are going to be stepping in, they've played regularly for us all year. We're not worried about it. We know these guys can do a great job for us."
Ballard has played seven games this postseason but none since Game 2 of the second round against Nashville. Alberts has played three playoff games, last getting action in Game 3 against the Predators.
Ehrhoff leads Vancouver defensemen with 11 points this postseason, with seven coming on the power play. The Canucks are already without Mikael Samuelsson, who usually plays the point on the first power-play unit. Samuelsson had surgery to repair an adductor tendon and a sports hernia.
The Canucks would be happy to keep Game 4 at even strength after the previous game featured 17 power plays, including 10 for the Sharks. Each team has scored six power-play goals, making avoiding penalties a major emphasis for both clubs. The Canucks have gotten the better of the play at even strength, outscoring the Sharks 7-3 in those situations.
"We're happy with our five-on-five play," defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "We feel like we're a little bit deeper team. Playing four lines and six Ds is our strength. We'd like to keep it there as much as possible."
The series has also been notable for the turnaround from the second round for two key players. Canucks center Ryan Kesler has been held to one assist after having five goals and six assists in a dominating series against Nashville.
Sharks forward Patrick Marleau has gone the other direction after failing to post a point in the first six games of the second round against Detroit, prompting former teammate and Versus analyst Jeremy Roenick to call him "gutless."
Marleau got the series-winning goal in Game 7 against the Red Wings and has scored in each game this series, as well, including two first-period goals that helped set the tone in Game 3.
"Things have been going good," Marleau said. "It's nice when the bounces start going your way. It's definitely a game of inches. Just put in the work, keep going into those same areas and good things will happen."
Josh Dubow can be reached at http://twitter.com/JoshDubowAP