Just like that, the Vancouver Canucks' most pressing need became a defenceman.
The Canucks, already down two defencemen because of injuries, lost stalwart Sami Salo to a lower-body injury during a 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday. Salo left during the second period and did not return. He will be re-evaluated on Friday.
Head coach Alain Vigneault said the team would call up Nolan Baumgartner, who is way, way down the organizational depth chart, should Salo not be able to play Saturday against Chicago.
Vancouver is without Kevin Bieksa (foot) and Willie Mitchell (upper body), yet its blueline problems don't end there.
Lawrence Nycholat would be the proverbial next man up, but he is just recovering from an injury himself. The Manitoba Moose, Vancouver's American Hockey League farm team, also have Mathieu Schneider on the roster, but the 40-year-old NHL veteran blew up at Canucks management last month, and isn't welcome back unless the team is out of options.
Baumgartner, 33, hasn't played in the NHL since the 2006-07 season, and hasn't been more than an emergency call-up since 2005-06, his first of three tours in the Canucks organization.
"We got to move on," said goaltender Roberto Luongo, who made 20 saves to beat Dallas. "It's part of the game, right?"
The Canucks are intensely scouting St. Louis Blues centre David Backes, who would upgrade a trouble spot in the middle of the third line should a trade be completed. But Backes missed a Thursday game in Ottawa with an upper-body injury, and the Canucks may need to reinforce their back end should Salo be lost for an extended period.
Mitchell is out until at least next week, while Bieksa will not return before March. The thinning corps might mean that Christian Ehrhoff, a revelation since being acquired from San Jose last summer, receives heavy ice-time in the near-term.
"A lot of good defencemen are on the sidelines and they're obviously tough to replace," Ehrhoff said. "I feel good playing a lot more minutes … it's a good challenge."
Ehrhoff scored his 10th goal of the season in the third period, a tally that would have been the winner had Trevor Daley not scored with less than three minutes remaining. Instead, Canucks centre Kyle Wellwood, who is wearing out his welcome with indifferent play, gets credit for the game-winning goal, which he registered with less than four minutes to play, after a bouncing puck got behind Dallas's defence.
Alex Burrows and Mason Raymond also scored for the home team. Toby Petersen and Loui Eriksson replied for the visitors. Burrows and Petersen both scored short-handed.
The latter gave Dallas a 2-1 lead midway through the second period before Burrows tied it one minute before intermission.
Burrows scored because Stars goaltender Alex Auld got too fancy while handling the puck outside of his crease. The Canucks winger poke-checked it away, and tallied his 13th goal in the last nine games. He also extended his point-scoring streak to 10 straight games.
"I gave him the puck and he had an empty net," said Auld, a former Canuck who was making his first career appearance against Vancouver. "It was a big turning point in the game."