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Amazingly, Manny Malhotra skated with the Canucks today

While I highly doubt* that he has any chance to return for the playoffs, Vancouver Canucks center Manny Malhotra skated with the team and on his own today. (This link contains brief video footage of Malhotra skating.)

In case you’re wondering, the Canucks lost Malhotra for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs when he was struck in the eye by a puck. The fact that he was skating today doesn’t change that, but it could be a heartening (yet small) step forward in his recovery process.

The Canucks found a way to get to the Western Conference finals without their excellent penalty-killing depth center, but his presence might be missed the most in Round 3. Whether Vancouver’s opponent is the Detroit Red Wings or San Jose Sharks, the team’s penalty kill will be pushed to the limit in either situation. The Red Wings and Sharks are also strong squads in the faceoff circle, another area of dominance for Malhotra. (That being said, Ryan Kesler isn’t far behind Malhotra in faceoff winning skills, so they probably won’t get killed in that category either.)

Here are Canucks GM Mike Gillis’ comments on Malhotra’s comeback prospects and the team’s expectations, via Ben Kuzuma of the Vancouver Province.

“I have no answer for that question,” said Canucks general manager Mike Gillis. “Today was about taking the next step in his recovery and he wanted to do some light skating,” said Gillis. “This is just a small step in his recovery. There is no timetable and there’s no schedule with an injury like this. He’s at this point because everything seems to be stable and it’s just another step. We’ve never asked and we’ve never been given a timeline.

“It’s about how he’s recovering. It’s basically day-by-day, week-by-week and month-by-month. We’re optimistic and just holding our breath about his ability to continue to recover. His recovery is the paramount thing and we’ll make decisions along the way and it never entered into our minds about playing, this is about his health. We’re just going to let the process take whatever time it requires.”

No doubt about it, Malhotra is far from ready to return and might not ever have the necessary range of vision to return to NHL competition.

The two most prominent examples of somewhat similar eye injuries happened to Detroit Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman and journeyman offensive defenseman Bryan Berard. Yzerman retired after suffering an eye injury while Berard’s promising young career was greatly altered when Marian Hossa’s stick accidentally caught him in the eye. Berard improbably played parts of six seasons after that injury, but he never regained the form that made him the first overall pick of the 1995 NHL Entry Draft and the 1996-97 Calder Trophy winner.

It’s possible Malhotra’s career hasn’t turned out the way some expected when he was the No. 7 overall pick of the ’98 draft, but he found a way to make himself an extremely useful NHL player. It would be a real shame to see his career cut short at age 31, but we’ll have to wait and see if he can make a comeback.

Today’s practice was the heartening first step.

* Make that “highly, highly, highly” doubt it.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

***

Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.