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Vancouver Canucks defence getting healthier, slowly but surely

VANCOUVER - Finally, there was some good news Saturday for the Vancouver Canucks' injury-riddled blue-line.

Despite a wonky knee, Mattias Ohlund returned to the lineup earlier than expected as the Canucks took on the St. Louis Blues. Kevin Bieksa, questionable because of a sore wrist, also suited up.

Both Ohlund and Bieksa had missed practice Friday.

"I'm still hoping to be able to play every game from now on in," said Ohlund, following Vancouver's morning skate. "Hopefully, that means playing for a long time in the playoffs."

Ohlund's return paid early dividends as he scored Vancouver's first goal Saturday, on a five-on-three power play at 6:30 of the first period.

Ohlund was expected to miss the game against St. Louis because of bone chips in his knee, which kept him out of Thursday's 6-2 victory over Nashville. Team officials feared he might require season-ending surgery.

The Canucks were fortunate that he recovered quickly, because fellow defenceman Aaron Miller was forced to sit out Saturday with a sore shoulder. Miller was injured late in Thursday's game when Nashville's Jordin Tootoo took a long run at him and crunched him into the boards on a play that Canucks players and coaches felt was a deliberate attempt to injure.

The Canucks have also lost Lukas Krajicek for the balance of the regular season and, possibly, the playoffs after he underwent shoulder surgery.

Ohlund, a 31-year-old native of Pitea, Sweden, said doctors told him he would not risk further injury if he played. They advised him to test his knee and see how it felt first.

"If I went for surgery, it's going to be, obviously, a few weeks (before recovery)," said Ohlund, who missed 11 games earlier this season because of a concussion. "Right now, I feel pretty good."

A long-term absence for Ohlund could have been a major setback for the Canucks, who are fighting for a Western Conference playoff spot. Of the nine defencemen who started the season with Vancouver, eight have sat out because of injuries.

"He's one of our best defencemen, so having him in the lineup makes us a better team," said Bieksa. "I expect nothing less from Mattias (than) to be back earlier than expected."

Bieksa, who returned Feb. 21 after a lacerated calf forced him out of 46 games, also ranks among the top rearguards, especially in offensive situations. He did not know what to expect from his sore wrist, but it felt much better Saturday morning.

"I just had some precautionary examinations (Friday) and everything turned out okay," said Bieksa. "It's just one of those things where you wake up in the middle of the night and it's a little stiff. It just took a while for the swelling to set in. I was confident (during Saturday morning's skate). I felt better."

The Canucks recalled Nathan McIver from Manitoba of the AHL in case Ohlund or Bieksa could not play. But coach Alain Vigneault said McIver will return to the minors.

Vancouver's banged-up defence corps reminded St. Louis coach Andy Murray of the many injuries his former Los Angeles Kings team experienced.

"I wish (the Canucks) had a few more nothing permanent, just for (Saturday's) game," joked Murray. "It speaks to the resiliency of their team. They've had a lot of injuries this year and they've found a way to battle through. That's a credit to their team and their coaches."



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