Vancouver’s Manny Malhotra cleared for contact after eye surgery; Could he play in the finals?

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With the Stanley Cup finals set to start on Wednesday, we’ve had a host of storylines pop up with the Vancouver Canucks. From the Sedins, to Ryan Kesler, to Roberto Luongo there’s a lot of things to zero in. One player who has been absent from the playoffs and from the Canucks lineup since mid-March is Manny Malhotra.

As you might recall, Malhotra was struck in the eye by a puck on March 16th, an injury that left Malhotra in danger of losing his eyesight in that eye and potentially ending his career. After two successful surgeries on the eye, Malhotra was fortunate to get the use out of his eye back even with reduced vision in the eye. While he’s been working out of late it wasn’t believed that Malhotra would be able to come back to hockey this season or what the timetable would be on when or if he’d be able to play hockey again.

Today, Malhotra was cleared for full contact in practices with the Canucks and opening up the possibility we could see him suit up for the Canucks in the Stanley Cup finals. TSN’s Bob McKenzie breaks down the possibilities ahead for Canucks coach Alain Vigneault when it comes to perhaps playing Malhotra and creating one of the most amazing stories of the year.

Malhotra has been steadily ramping up the intensity of his on-ice workouts. Now, though, assured by doctors that the only way he could damage the eye is by taking direct contact by a puck or stick on the eye, he will be able to take the next step in practice and engage in contact and battle drills that will give him a better idea if he’s fully ready for the rigors of an NHL Stanley Cup final playoff game.

Anyone watching Malhotra practice recently has seen that he appears comfortable taking draws. He’s been working hard on his conditioning.

Malhotra will wear a full face shield like the one in the photo attached to this story so taking direct damage to the eye would be unlikely. Still, he’ll have reduced vision in his left eye and if the Canucks are thinking of putting him, doing so in the Stanley Cup finals after not having played since mid-March does come with risks. Even if Malhotra plays on the fourth line at limited minutes mistakes and risks are still there. You’d think it would be unlikely that Alain Vigneault would take a chance there, but if Malhotra is ready and he can play the way he did in the regular season… Astounding.

Should Malhotra play and do the same thing he was doing during the year, he’s a tremendous defensive center with the ability to dominate at faceoffs while shutting down opponents top forwards. Suffice to say, if Malhotra can come back and do that again life will be made awfully difficult for the likes of David Krejci, Vincent Lecavalier, or Steve Stamkos. The Canucks have done well in spite of Malhotra’s absence but if they can get him back that makes either Boston or Tampa Bay’s task even harder to win the Stanley Cup against the favored Canucks.

For now, we’ll hope for the best for Malhotra and hope that we will indeed see him suit up again. If that happens during the Stanley Cup finals though… What a story.

Ducks take control of second in Pacific after edging Oilers

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Connor McDavid was fantastic on Wednesday, but the Anaheim Ducks overcame his strong showing for a significant win in the Pacific.

McDavid scored a goal and two assists, yet Ryan Getzlaf was right there with him with three assists, helping the Ducks win 4-3.

With that, Anaheim is clearly ahead of Edmonton for second in the Pacific. The Ducks would hold home-ice over the Oilers if the playoffs began today, and better yet for them, a division title isn’t out of the question:

1. Sharks – 91 points in 73 games played
2. Ducks – 89 points in 73 GP
3. Oilers – 87 points in 73 GP
4. Flames – 86 points in 73 GP

As you can see, the Oilers aren’t exactly far ahead of the Flames for third, either.

Going forward, the Oilers have an interesting schedule: a mix of games against cellar dwellers (two apiece against the Canucks and Avalanche) plus two games apiece versus the Kings and Sharks.

The Ducks’ schedule includes two matches against the Flames, one against the Kings and one more match at Edmonton on April 1.

Long story short, the jockeying for position is far from over, but this was a pretty significant win for the Ducks.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).

Islanders grab precious points by beating Rangers

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The goal posts might move from time to time – now they’re chasing the Boston Bruins more than the Toronto Maple Leafs – but the bottom line is that the New York Islanders need to get it done to make the playoffs.

They still have some climbing to do, but Wednesday represented a step in the right direction with a tough 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.

The Rangers built 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the second period as John Tavares struggled with a “hat trick” of penalties, but Tavares & Co. wouldn’t give up. They managed two power-play goals in the third (one by Nikolay Kulemin, the winner by Andrew Ladd) to turn things around for a significant win.

Anders Lee was also a big part of the win, grabbing a goal and an assist. The biggest difference-maker may very well have been Thomas Greiss, who stopped 34 of 36 shots (including all 11 in the third) as the Rangers created a lot of offense.

The Islanders now have 80 standings points, placing them two behind the Bruins for the East’s final wild card spot.

The Rangers’ hold over the first wild card seems quite secure, but they do have to worry ever so slightly about their play at home. With this defeat, they’ve now lost seven straight (0-5-2) at Madison Square Garden.

Video: Rick Nash scores 20th goal in sprawling style

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Rick Nash has his critics stemming from his playoff struggles in the past, but for those who support him, moments like these are satisfying.

Why? Because you’d be absurd to discredit how hard he tries when Nash scores goals like he did for the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Nash went all-out for his 20th goal of the season, sprawling after scoring against Thomas Greiss. It’s quite a sight, and Getty Images really was on top of that one.

via Getty Images

The Rangers may need more from him tonight, however, as the Islanders just went up 3-2. Watch the remainder of the contest on NBCSN.