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Saturday, May 21, 2011
Canucks-Sharks: Keith Ballard likely to make return in Game 4

By Pierre LeBrun


SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The betting money is on Keith Ballard and Andrew Alberts to lace them up for Sunday's Game 4 of the Western Conference finals in the place of injured Vancouver Canucks blueliners Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome.

Mind you, as is his custom, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault would not confirm that.

"We'll see tomorrow," he said Saturday after practice.

Vigneault, meanwhile, would not speculate on how serious the injuries to Ehrhoff and Rome were and how long they'd be out.

"You guys know we don't discuss injuries, so ... not going there," Vigneault said.

It would be stunning not to see the $4 million man Ballard not finally reinserted into the lineup. At some point, the Canucks have to give this guy another chance.

"I have a lot of faith in Keith," Vigneault said. "He has played some good hockey for us. Obviously, I think that he'd probably like to have a little bit [of a] bigger role on our team. I mean, nobody hides that. He's been used to more minutes in the past with the prior teams he's played with. But on this team, we feel that there are some guys right now that are playing better than him. ... He's got an opportunity, probably tomorrow, to step in and show us what he can do."

Ballard is champing at the bit; he hasn't played since Game 2 of the second round against Nashville.

"It's not an ideal situation to come in like that when two guys that have been playing real well for us go down, but it's been the same story all year," Ballard said Saturday. "We have to use our depth again, and if it happens, I'm excited to get back in."

Despite being in and out of the lineup, Ballard insisted his confidence isn't shaken.

"My confidence is good," he said. "There have been some ups and downs this year, definitely, and lately it has been tough sitting out and watching and seeing what the guys are going through, how hard they're playing and how fun it is on the ice. But one thing I haven't lost is my confidence."

If Alberts does not go, another option for Vigneault is rookie Chris Tanev.

No suspension for McGinn

Sharks forward Jamie McGinn avoided suspension from the NHL on Saturday. The league reviewed his hit on Rome and decided his five-minute major and game misconduct Friday was enough discipline.

"I'm not going to comment on how the league interprets certain hits," Vigneault said. "Going to leave that up to them. That's all I want to say there."

Couture OK

Sharks center Logan Couture confirmed he'll be playing in Game 4 despite getting his bell rung Friday night after colliding with linemate Ryane Clowe.

"I felt a little dazed," Couture said of the collision. "I went out, got checked out. The doctor said I was fine, but they didn't want me coming back in the game. I feel fine. Did all the tests, all that stuff. He said I didn't have a concussion."

Marleau heating up

For now, the heat is off Patrick Marleau after putting up five goals in his past four games. He said he's not doing anything different.

"Amazingly, I think it's the same. I'm going to the same areas," he said Saturday after practice. "Pucks are coming through and I'm getting some breaks. It's a game of inches, and right now, the inches are going our way."

Playing hurt

Both the Canucks and Sharks have players playing through pain. That's the NHL playoffs, Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Saturday.

"There's ice bags, there's treatments going on all over the place," he said. "When the Islanders' dynasty was in existence, I remember hearing a story about the Oilers walking by the Islanders' locker room. Those guys were bleeding, they were taped up, there were ice bags everywhere when they should have been celebrating a Stanley Cup championship.

"I think if I remember the story correctly, that was the moment the Oilers needed to become their dynasty, was to see that. If you're not hurt right now, if you're not banged, bruised, you're not sore, you're not tired, I guess the question would be, why?"

Playing with Boyle

Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray said it's no issue at all playing with an offensively gifted blueliner like Dan Boyle, who likes to join the rush.

"Believe it or not, he has a pattern in how he does things," Murray said. "Maybe that's because I've played alongside him so much. The best part of it is that we communicate a lot. I know the times when he wants to take off for the offensive zone. He's not a defenseman that has a lot of risk in his game. He picks his spots really well."