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Luongo, Kesler day to day for Canucks

by Kevin Woodley
VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler, defenseman Keith Ballard and goalie Roberto Luongo all were missing when the Canucks returned to the ice for practice today.

Given the intense session ended with a 15-minute bag skate, it wasn't a bad time to be away. Of course, that all depends how long they're gone.

In the cases of Kesler and Luongo, coach Alain Vigneault sounded confident it wouldn't be long, with Luongo skating on his own before practice and both listed as a possibility to play the Canucks' next game, Sunday against Ottawa. But Ballard may not return as quickly.

The defenseman left Wednesday's 5-1 loss to Chicago soon after a first-period collision and Vigneault said he is out "indefinitely" with back "issues."

"Butt, back tightened up," Vigneault said. "See how it responds next couple of days."

The Canucks are well equipped to handle Ballard's absence, with NHL-proven Andrew Alberts and Alexander Sulzer waiting on the sidelines. They are less prepared for another extended absence for Kesler, though. He crashed into the end boards with his right shoulder after driving hard to the net late in the second period. The reigning Selke Trophy winner returned to play in the third period, but was receiving treatment after the game, and again Thursday.

"He came in with stiffness, and we decided to give him the day off to take care of his shoulder," Vigneault said, adding there was no concern of a separation. "At this time," Vigneault said he expects Kesler, still trying to find his game after offseason hip surgery, to be ready Sunday.

That's good, because the Canucks are carrying 12 forwards and their depth is depleted after utility forward Andrew Ebbett broke his foot late last week, and fourth-line hopeful Steven Pinizzotto recently underwent season-ending shoulder surgery.

Vancouver could get Mason Raymond back sooner than expected. Out all season after fracturing a vertebra on an awkward hit by Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuck during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, Raymond was cleared for contact after undergoing physical testing prior to Thursday's practice.

"Tests all good, even the strength for upper body was better than anticipated," Vigneault said. "We'll see how he feels here the next couple of days as far as practice."

Vigneault confirmed the decision to send Eddie Lack back to the AHL on Thursday and use an emergency fill-in goalie for a fourth-straight day was based more on the Canucks' lack of salary cap space, but there also is a chance Luongo will be back Sunday. Off the ice since suffering an undisclosed upper-body injury in Sunday's win against the Islanders, Luongo skated for half an hour with goalie coach Roland Melanson before Thursday's practice.

"He's still day to day," Vigneault said.
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