Vancouver's injury-ravaged defence corps will face yet another test as the Canucks try to keep their season alive again in Game 6 of their Western Conference semi-final series with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Often-shelved defenceman Sami Salo is questionable as the Canucks, down 3-2 in the series, try to overcome home-ice disadvantage at General Motors Place, where they have yet to beat the Blackhawks in two games this post-season.
"It's pressure situations," coach Alain Vigneault told reporters after the Canucks returned Monday from Chicago. "Guys step up and everybody gives a little more. Obviously Sami (Salo) is a big part of our core and it's tough to see him go down like that, but guys step up and that's what it's all about in the playoffs."
Vigneault listed Salo's status as day-to-day after Vancouver's most reliable defenceman, who also has a knack for timely goals in pressure situations, was felled by a deflected Duncan Keith slapshot at the end of the first period Sunday. True to form, Salo's injury took on mythical qualities as he was carted off to hospital in an ambulance and a Canucks spokesman denied via Twitter that he had injured a testicle.
"That was tough to watch," said Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, who had a close-up view of the defenceman writhing on the ice. "Hopefuly, he'll be good to go (tonight)."
Salo, who likes to keep reporters in suspense on his health situation, was spotted walking but not talking Monday as he carried his bags through an airport terminal without any apparent signs of pain or difficulty. If Salo can't play, journeyman defenceman Lawrence Nycholat, who spent most of this season in the minors, is waiting in the wings.
Nycholat, a 31-year-old Calgary native, has yet to play a Stanley Cup playoff game, and has only suited up in 50 regular-season contests since turning pro in 2000-01. But he is about all Vigneault has at his disposal as the coach now contends with injuries to farmhands.
Defencemen Aaron Rome and Nolan Baumgartner, another call-up, were injured in the first round against Los Angeles. Rome, who proved to be reliable in his first season of regular NHL duty, aggravated an undisclosed injury against the Kings while Baumgartner injured his knee while replacing him.
Brad Lukowich hurt a shoulder two months ago after he was called up from Manitoba, and shut-down specialist Willie Mitchell remains out indefinitely as he recovers slowly from a concussion suffered almost four months ago.
Even if Salo can play hurt, Vancouver's drive to stay alive will likely come down to five reasonably healthy blue-liners -- including two, Shane O'Brien and Andrew Alberts, who are known for taking bad penalties at inopportune times.
"Will is a big part of it," said defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who scored twice Sunday. "Who wants it more? Obviously we're a desperate team right now because if we lose we go home, but execution is huge and, more than will, I think execution is important. Last game, we executed."
But, in the playoffs, the Canucks have had difficulty executing at General Motors Place, where they posted the NHL's second-best home record, set a franchise record with 30 wins, and did not suffer back-to-back losses in regulation time before the Blackhawks won the third and fourth games convincingly.
"I don't know," he said about the cause of his club's home-ice troubles. "Maybe a bit antsy at times, a little anxious. We feel like we have to be the aggressor maybe. I don't know what it is to tell you the truth, but the (style of) game we played on the road, and won both games, was very similar so we'll try to do that."
Vancouver, terrible on the penalty kill during most of the playoffs, will try to avoid infractions again. Meanwhile, Luongo, who shaved his playoff beard after struggling in Game 4, hopes to win three straight games as he did during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, when he backstopped Canada to a gold medal.
"I was joking around (Sunday) that I'm in the quarterfinal game and just have to win three in a row to win the gold," said Luongo. "That's the kind of situation I put myself in and whether it had an effect on me or not, who knows? But we're playing Slovakia (tonight), right?"
Not exactly, but Slovak winger Marian Hossa will be a constant threat. Luongo, who excelled in Game 5, said all players, not just him, must step up as a team.
"It's not on one guy to make a difference," he said. "It's on everybody to make sure they give a little extra."
However, Bieksa said the outcome will hinge on their captain in net.
"We need Louie to play like that for us to win," he said. "In the playoffs you need good goaltending and he was dominant last game and we need him to carry that forward."