VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Sami Salo waited 12 seasons, and endured countless injuries for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.
One win from his first Cup finals, the Vancouver Canucks' defenseman doesn't want to wait any longer.
With a 3-1 lead over San Jose in the Western Conference finals heading into Game 5 Tuesday, Salo knows how important it is for the Canucks to finish off the Sharks fast. It's something they failed to do against their opponents in Game 5 at home in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
"We noticed from series past we have to have the killer instinct to finish the other team off," Salo said one day after scoring two 5-on-3 goals in Sunday's 4-2 win at San Jose. "Otherwise it will give them momentum and too many chances."
The 36-year-old Salo also knows his team has a chance that doesn't come around often. He started his career in Ottawa, but was traded to the Canucks long before the Senators made their lone Stanley Cup finals appearance in 2007. The hard-shooting Finnish defender became a punch line after more than 40 career injuries included a snakebite and a pulled butt muscle. He then tore his Achilles' tendon playing floorball last summer.
After undergoing surgery, Salo missed the first 4½ months of the season.
"It's been a long journey, not just in a career way, but the whole year with things that happened," Salo said. "All the blood and sweat you poured during the season has paid off."
Salo was injured again in Game 6 of the opening round after Vancouver failed to finish off Chicago in five games, then had to watch as the Canucks survived overtime in Game 7 to advance. He was back for the final three games of the conference semifinals against Nashville, and again Vancouver failed to end things on home ice against the Predators, forcing another long road trip.
"They say the fourth win is the toughest one to get and that's been the case for us," said captain Henrik Sedin, adding the team has learned from the previous failures. "The other team is for sure treating it as a Game 7 and if you are not doing it yourself, it's tough to win those games."
Against Nashville, that meant two more long flights, and two fewer days off for Henrik, who labored against the Predators. He was criticized after combining with brother Daniel Sedin for seven points and a minus-10 rating. But after six days off, the twins already have 15 points against San Jose.
"That was key," said Henrik, who never admitted to an injury but took two extra days off even after teammates returned to practice. "Get off the ice, recharge and get ready for the next series."
Henrik stressed that wasn't the only reason to try to finish off a talented Sharks team that was second in the Western Conference during the regular season. As the playoffs become physical, the Canucks have already lost two defensemen to hits by San Jose's big forwards.
One of them, Christian Ehrhoff, took part in an optional practice Monday but refused to speculate on his status, saying only that he was day-to-day after a hit by Jamie McGinn in Game 3. Aaron Rome, who was also knocked out of Game 3 by McGinn, didn't skate and isn't expected to play.
Asked if he would be playing if it was Game 7, Ehrhoff said, "It is kind of. ... In the playoffs, every game is like a Game 7."
The Sharks didn't promise to treat Tuesday's contest like a Game 7, but defenseman Dan Boyle liked their chances of forcing one if they can get the series back to San Jose for Game 6 on Thursday.
"We're going there to win a game and we like our chances coming back here so it's going to come down to seven games," Boyle said before the Sharks flew up to Vancouver Monday afternoon. "That's the thought process right now."
Coach Todd McLellan said captain Joe Thornton will play despite being knocked out of Game 4 by Raffi Torres and not taking part in an optional skate Monday. Defenseman Jason Demers, out the first four games with an undisclosed injury, said it was up to the coach if he returns.
No matter who plays, the Sharks know they have to stay out of the penalty after giving up three 5-on-3 goals in 1:55 Sunday, and be better when the Canucks take penalties after failing to convert the game's first five power plays. If not, the Sharks could soon face a second straight summer of questions about coming so close to the franchise's first trip to the Stanley Cup finals.
"You want it more than anything," said Patrick Marleau, who has played all of his 13 seasons in San Jose. "It is hard to put into words, but it means everything basically."
Salo agrees. And he doesn't want to wait much longer for it.