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Salo steps up for Canucks

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A lot was made of the Vancouver Canucks losing two defensemen to injury during Game 3, and how Keith Ballard and Christopher Tanev would have to fill the voids left by the absences of Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome.

But most of the extra minutes and responsibility fell onto the shoulders of the 36-year-old Sami Salo, who came through in a big way against the Sharks in Game 4.

Salo scored two power-play goals -- both during 5-on-3s in the second period -- and assisted on Ryan Kesler's 5-on-3 goal that opened the scoring. The native of Turku, Finland who tore his Achilles' tendon during the offseason and didn't make his season debut until Feb. 12 played 23:33 on Sunday afternoon during the Canucks' 4-2 victory.

Salo logged 24:30 of ice time in Game 3, but that was because of Ehrhoff's injury during the first period that knocked him from the game. He hadn't played more than 19:02 during the postseason prior to these last two games.

"He logged some very important minutes," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Sami is one of our veteran players.  He's been here for a long time.  A very important part of our core group.

"I think he understands that, you know, you don't get too many opportunities.  Maybe he doesn't have a lot of opportunities left, considering he's getting a little bit older.  So obviously he's very motivated right now, playing real well for us."

Salo admitted that he does realize time is running out on his career and he appreciates the chance has Tuesday night in Game 5, when the Canucks can clinch the series and get Salo to his first Stanley Cup Final.

"It's really exciting," Salo said. "All the years that I've been here, we've had great teams.  Just seems this year that the team is really united together.  Everybody is pulling together as a team.

"For sure it's been a long journey this year, having a tough offseason.  But we worked really hard to get to this point.  Now it's really exciting.  It's the first time in my long career that I have a chance to play in the Western Conference Finals.  It couldn't be any better."

Salo's shot from the point during the Canucks' playoff record three 5-on-3 power-play goals also couldn't have been much better. He didn't break it out on the first goal, instead faking a shot before dishing the puck to Kesler, who unleashed a bomb of his own to make it 1-0 at 9:16.

Salo then blasted home two goals in the next 1:55 to make it 3-0. His first shot found room between the blocker arm and body of Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi; the second one hit the back of the net to Niemi's left.

Defenseman Kevin Bieksa offered his insight as to why the Canucks were able to score three times with a two-man advantage in Game 4 after going 0-for-2 in that same situation in Game 3.

"Last game we had a pretty lengthy 5-on-3 and those guys were diving in the way of his shot," Bieksa said. "They smartened up a little bit and figured out that he has the hardest shot in the League and weren't as brave this time around. He scored a couple big goals because of it."

Having Salo as a right-handed shot at the point made life easier for the power-play unit as a whole, said Henrik Sedin, who had a franchise record four assists.

"We made some changes last game.  It opened up a lot of different options for us, for me as a passer," Sedin said. "He made a great play to Kesler on the first goal, and then he took two great shots.  When you give him that much time, he's going to usually score."

It was Salo's first three-point game in the playoffs, but he decided to give the credit to potentially the game's best passer.

"I don't think it matters who is playing the point when he has the puck," Salo said.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo