NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vancouver Canucks defenseman Sami Salo returned to the lineup on Thursday for Game 4 against Nashville, his first appearance since going down with an undisclosed injury in Game 6 of the first round against Chicago.
Salo's return meant that 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, both sat out.
Salo had said his earlier in the day that 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
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.
"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. The top four – Kevin Bieksa (28:42 of time on ice in Game 3), Christian Ehrhoff (27:25), Edler (27:22) and Dan Hamhuis (27:14) – are playing the overwhelming majority of the minutes.
During the regular season, Salo ranked fifth among the team's defensemen in time on ice at 20:20 per game – far more than Vigneault played the likes of Ballard, Rome and Alberts. His presence could take some pressure off the top four in terms of 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, who finished third on the team with 27:22. Vigneault might have made the change to provide more defensive stability with Edler after Edler 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
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 agreed. "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."