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Canucks finally get good news about blue-line

- Associated Press - Monday, February 21, 2011

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA (AP) - The Vancouver Canucks have finally gotten some good news about their defensemen.

Dan Hamhuis, one of five key defensemen injured during the last four weeks, will play Monday against the visiting Montreal Canadiens after missing five games with a concussion.

Keith Ballard, out seven games with a knee sprain, could also suit up.

"For any team, it's big to get a top D-man or a forward back," Sami Salo said after Monday's practice.

"(Hamhuis) moves the puck well, plays against the other team's top line, shuts them down. He's pretty good offensively as well so he's a big part of this team."

Hamhuis is coming off a third career concussion but surprised team doctors with his quick recovery.

He was crushed into the end glass Feb. 9 by Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks and was unconscious on the ice for about half a minute. It was the hardest hit of the three that produced concussions.

"The others were just little knocks to the head but I felt way worse the next day," Hamhuis said.

"It was a quick recovery, considering. I was quite symptom free most of the time, just dealing with some minor head pressure.

"The doctors have been a little bit surprised about how quickly things have moved along but I'm certainly happy about it."

The Canucks have clung to the top spot in the NHL despite the full medical room.

There are no projected return dates for Kevin Bieksa, who has missed two games with a broken foot; Andrew Alberts, out three games with a broken wrist; or Alex Edler, sidelined 11 games by back surgery.

Edler, who developed a more physical game in the playoffs last spring, is a key component of the Vancouver power play with eight goals and 24 assists.

Bieksa is having his best season, leading the NHL at plus-26 goals playing at even strength.

Alberts, a trade deadline pickup last season, has become more comfortable with his teammates.

Lee Sweatt, called up from the AHL Manitoba Moose to help plug the holes, soon found himself in the infirmary and has missed seven games with a foot injury.

Salo was on the shelf for the first 55 games of the season with a ruptured Achilles' tendon he hurt playing floorball in the off-season in Finland.

Still, the Canucks have found a way to stay two points ahead of Philadelphia for the overall lead, have a five-point cushion on Detroit atop the Western Conference and are 15 ahead of surging Calgary in the Northwest Division.

It doesn't hurt that Daniel Sedin (77 points) and brother Henrik (72) are one-three in NHL scoring and that the Canucks have the league's best power play and rank fourth in penalty kills.

"The young guys coming in have done a really good job," Hamhuis said. "Our forwards have been a little more conscious of their defensive responsibilities as well."

NOTES: With Hamhuis's return, the Canucks assigned Oberg to the AHL Manitoba Moose. They also recalled C Cody Hodgson, whom coach Alain Vigneault described as another fourth-line option before next week's trade deadline. ... Hodgson scored his first NHL goal in a five-game call-up earlier this season.

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