Vancouver defense continues its disconcerting shuffles as Chris Tanev replaces Keith Ballard

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While Roberto Luongo’s struggles are well-documented, there is a more disturbing reality brimming underneath the surface for the Vancouver Canucks. After rolling with injury-related punches to their defensive corps time and time again during the regular season, it seems like Vancouver’s D is finally stumbling from repeated postseason body blows.

The hope was that handsomely paid seventh defenseman Keith Ballard would be able to save the day or at least stop the bleeding. Instead, the hip checking maestro was a turnover machine (and not delicious apple turnovers either, sadly).

If you wanted any more proof that Canucks coach Alain Vigneault doesn’t trust Ballard in the playoffs, today’s lineup note will drive that point home. Unproven rookie Chris Taven will take his place in the lineup for Game 5, according to Darren Dreger.

This basically breaks the Canucks defense down to: Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Sami Salo, Christian Ehrhoff, Andrew Alberts and Tanev. When remotely healthy, the strength of Vancouver’s defense was that there wasn’t a particularly rotten apple in the bunch. The sum was greater than their individual parts. Now their defense seems like a “Sum of All Fears” for especially distraught Canucks fans.

Things seem downright dire on D now with crucial defensive defenseman Dan Hamhuis injured and marginal (yet Vigneault-approved?) blueliner Aaron Rome suspended for the finals plus the many semi-documented injuries to active defensemen. The Bruins were able to exploit matchup problems thanks to the last change in Boston, but maybe the Canucks can survive by masking their deficiencies in Vancouver.

Going into this series, it seemed like the Canucks were the obvious favorites. Yet with Ryan Kesler seemingly banged up, the Sedin twins often bottled up by Boston, Luongo faltering and their defense in shambles, it’s tough to deny the notion that the Bruins are the more stable group. We’ll see if the Canucks can get things back together, but they’ll have to overcome their own makeshift defense and some troubling issues to do so.

Video: Trisha Yearwood sings national anthem for Preds-Ducks

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Keith Urban sang the national anthem for Game 3. Kelly Clarkson did the honors for the Nashville Predators before Game 4. Next up: Trisha Yearwood for Game 6.

The Predators hope to close out the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, and they got off to a nice start with Austin Watson scoring a quick 1-0 goal. Not long after, the Predators added another to build to a 2-0 lead.

Garth Brooks spoiled Yearwood’s appearance a bit before the contest.

Brooks also revealed Yearwood’s early fan creds:

Nick Ritchie ejected after boarding, bloodying Viktor Arvidsson (Video)

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Anaheim Ducks forward Nick Ritchie scored a goal in Game 4, but he won’t be able to provide such a scoring boost for his team in Game 6.

That’s because he was ejected during the first period after hitting rising Nashville Predators star Viktor Arvidsson from behind, bloodying the slick Swede.

Ritchie was whistled for a game misconduct and major. Remarkably, the Ducks killed the entire five-minute power-play opportunity, with Ryan Kesler‘s shorthanded chance being one of the better opportunities for either team.

It’s still a big blunder, but if the Ducks can get back in it, remember that big kill.

Video of the hit is coming soon. For now, check out the GIF:

Oddly, Arvidsson left the ice with a wound that more or less spelled out “R,” presumably for Ritchie, maybe celebrating the return of “Twin Peaks.”

(Such an obvious move might not be surreal enough for David Lynch, though. Alex Prewitt’s Zorro reference might be more, um, on the mark.)

Video: Predators storm off to 2-0 lead, beguile Bernier early on

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It was already loud at Bridgestone Arena, but the Nashville Predators are making it a madhouse with a strong start against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6.

First, it was Austin Watson, who sent a puck off a Ducks skate to score a 1-0 goal on Nashville’s first shot on Jonathan Bernier, who is starting instead of John Gibson. That came about 90 seconds into the game, really revving up the crowd.

Colton Sissons scored his first goal of the Western Conference Final – on his first shot on goal of the series – to make it 2-0. At that point, Bernier had allowed two goals on three shots on goal. Bernier’s made a few stops since then, but it’s a shaky start for a Ducks team facing elimination.

There’s some solace in that Anaheim’s often at its best in dire situations, though you have to wonder how many times they can bounce back from this?

No Mike Fisher or Craig Smith for Predators in Game 6

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The Anaheim Ducks won’t have John Gibson back, but the Nashville Predators are dealing with some injury-related letdowns, too.

Craig Smith skated before Game 6, but he opted not to play on Monday. Mike Fisher is also unable to go for the Predators as they aim to eliminate Anaheim.

The Ducks also won’t have Rickard Rakell back in the mix, so this physical Western Conference Final continues to feel like a battle of attrition.

Click here for the official roster report.

Game 5 is airing on NBCSN right now. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

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