Western Conference Final: Injuries, Penalties Define Game 3

Injuries and penalty trouble affected both San Jose and Vancouver in Game 3. What sort of impact will this make on Sunday's critical Game 4?

You can bet that neither Canucks coach Alain Vignault nor Sharks coach Todd McLellan were happy with their teams' performances in Game 3.

Oh, sure, McLellan's group got the all-important victory to put them back in the series, but the San Jose Sharks made it difficult on themselves with a constant parade to the penalty box from the second-period on. On the flip side, Vignault's Vancouver Canucks took their fair share of penalties early on in the game, allowing San Jose's effective power play to capitalize.

For San Jose, the discipline issue seemed to focus mostly on the fourth line. Newly inserted Jamie McGinn and Andrew Desjardins played controlled, effective minutes in the first period; however, Desjardins saw very little of the ice following two consecutive bad penalties in the second that contributed to extended 5-on-3 time for the Canucks. McGinn received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a brutal boarding hit on Vancouver's Aaron Rome -- and if your memory can stretch back to the first round of the playoffs, a very similar play happened to McGinn in the decisive Game 6 against the Los Angeles Kings. That five-minute major carried into overtime, which the Sharks managed to kill off before Joe Thornton propelled the team into the second round.

Of course, Vancouver's power play is much more deadly than the Kings', and that type of play has pretty much all of San Jose's fourth liners in McLellan's doghouse. Ben Eager's penalty meltdown in Game 2 put the game out of reach for San Jose, and the combination of McGinn and Desjardins' penalties almost gave away Game 3. The difference between Eager and McGinn, though, is that while McLellan acknowledged McGinn got what he deserved with the five-minute major, the coach felt McGinn contributed with speed and energy, and had the game not devolved into a special teams battle, McGinn probably would have seen more ice time.

However, that tale can come and go with the final buzzer of Game 3. The bigger question will be Vancouver's blue line come Game 4. The Canucks invested heavily in their defense, and potential Game 4 injuries to Aaron Rome and Christian Ehrhoff -- who didn't play after a seemingly innocent shoulder-to-shoulder collision with McGinn -- sets up a dilemma for the Canucks. Keith Ballard, a healthy scratch for ages despite making $4.2 million a year, seems like a logical choice to come in for at least one player, and there was a time when Ballard was a young defenseman with tremendous upside. Ballard never found his groove with the Canucks, then suffered one of the more gruesome-looking knee injuries you'll see. Even though he's game-ready, Ballard's lateral movement hasn't been the same since his earlier days with the Phoenix Coyotes, and he'll certainly be a downgrade from the mobile Ehrhoff. At the same time, players can take these moments as opportunities to rise to the occasion, and Ballard will probably have the door open to play hero in Game 4.

Will either Ehrhoff or Rome play? Vignault will most likely play his cards close to his vest, but Ehrhoff's injury looked a lot more mysterious than Rome's. Vancouver's trainer was seen holding on to Ehrhoff's shoulder before Ehrhoff left the game, and that could be a big concern for a player known for his booming slapshot and offensive instincts. For Rome, who has been getting about 15 minutes a night, no one will probably know until at least Saturday morning. Rome was visibly shaken after getting boarded, and the concussion concern is obvious. All we know is that Vignault acknowledged that both may miss Game 4, meaning that further reinforcements beyond Keith Ballard may be required.

The one injured player who will definitely play in Game 4? San Jose's Logan Couture, who ran into teammate Ryane Clowe before missing the final stretch of the game.

This creates an interesting stage for Game 4. The turnaround time is shorter than usual, with a noon PST start. The early start could hurt both teams, as the extreme amount of penalties wore down both team's penalty killers, and the status of Vancouver's injured defensemen could also create a fatigue factor for the Canuck blueline.

If the Sharks win, it's a best of three. If the Canucks win, they take a stranglehold on the series. Right now, Vancouver's penalty kill is still doing them in and San Jose continues to give up goals-against in the third period. Will that change? At this point, anything goes.

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