Vancouver Canucks Manny Malhotra talks with media after being cleared to play in the NHL Stanley Cup Final in Vancouver

“Day to day” Malhotra is practicing like he could play in Game 1

One of the feel good stories could finally reach its pinnacle on Wednesday night if things keep progressing for injured Manny Malhotra. Since he was cleared for practice and contact last week, fans have wondered if the Canucks center could make it back into the line-up at some point during the Cup Finals. Over the weekend, Vancouver announced that he’s “day to day” as he tries to fully acclimate himself on the rink with 11 other guys. Today, the glimmer of hope that started last week has been given even more fuel.

At Canucks practice, head coach Alain Vigneault is maintaining the company line to the media by repeating that Malhotra is “day to day.” Malhotra was fighting back tears over the weekend when talking to media members about his medical clearance, but he was quick to point out that he’s not completely out of the woods.

“Going forward, I will continue to be monitored daily, and if at any time the doctor doesn’t like what he sees, he has the ultimate veto power.”

It’s great that Vigneault and Malhotra are doing their best to temper Canucklehead’s enthusiasm, but it’s looking increasingly likely that he’ll see action in the Cup Finals sooner than later. NHL.com Correspondent Dhiren Mahiban reported from Canucks’ practice that Vigneault is putting Malhotra in situations on Monday that say he could very likely play in Game 1, albeit in a limited role.

However, anyone who watched practice closely noticed the forward was paired on a penalty killing unit alongside Maxim Lapierre — a sign that he could play Game 1 against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.
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It’s likely that Malhotra starts Game 1 on the fourth line playing limited time while being used in key faceoff situations, and on the penalty kill.”

Can you imagine the atmosphere in Rogers Arena if Malhotra was out on the ice to take the opening faceoff of the Stanley Cup Finals? It would be Western Canada’s version of Willis Reed—it almost wouldn’t matter how effective he was on the ice. Just the fact that he would be able to make it back into the line-up eleven weeks after nearly losing his eye against the Colorado Avalanche would be inspiring enough to blow the roof off an already charged atmosphere for Game 1.

As much as his presence would give the crowd (and his team) a shot of additional adrenaline, his usefulness in this series goes beyond the locker room. Even if he can play in a limited role in key faceoff situations and on the penalty kill, a player of Malhotra’s caliber would be a boost to the team out on the ice. If the Bruins had difficulties scoring on the power play against the Lightning, just imagine how difficult it will be when they’re going up against two legitimate Selke candidates in Malhotra and Ryan Kesler. In the faceoff circle, he could help neutralize Patrice Bergeron who has been spectacular in face-offs this postseason. The Bruins will continue to throw him out for every big draw (4th in playoff faceoff attempts), but the same combination of Kesler and Malhotra could slow down Bergeron’s 62.3% rate in the postseason. Remember, in over 1200 attempts this season, Malhotra was the 2nd best faceoff man in the league at 61.7%. If he can make the lineup and neutralize a potential advantage for the Bruins, he’ll be doing his job.

Pavelski’s late goal helps Sharks grab 2-0 series lead over Preds

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The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.

The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.

Here’s the goal:

Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.

Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.

Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.

Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.

The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.

Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.

The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.

Video: Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved by his visor after taking Shea Weber shot to the face

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It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.

After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.

In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.

You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.

It’s nice to see that Vlasic was in a joking mood after the game:

Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:

It sounds like Olli Maatta won’t be ready for Game 3

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You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.

After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.

“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.

“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”

After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.

“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”

And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.

Related:

Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

Brooks Orpik suspended three games for hit on Olli Maatta

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Brooks Orpik has been suspended for three games for his hit on Olli Maatta (top). The Caps defenseman will be forced to miss Games 3, 4 and 5 of the best-of-seven series against the Penguins.

Orpik delivered a late, high hit to Maatta in Game 2. The Penguins defenseman was wobbly getting off the ice and he was unable to return to the game.

Here’s how the Department of Players Safety saw the play:

“Orpik steps up to pressure Bonino, who quickly moves the puck to Maatta. Orpik peels off Bonino to pressure Maatta, who releases a shot from the top of the circle. The two continue on their path toward the goal line, as the puck is kicked into the slot. A full second after Maatta releases the puck, Orpik delivers a high, forceful hit making significant head contact. This is interference.”

To watch the NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s full explanation, click the video below.

This is the third time Orpik’s been suspended in his NHL career.