“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.

Video: Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler lose cool in scuffle with Kassian, Oilers

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In the first round, Zack Kassian reminded the hockey world why he came into the league with considerable hype as a first-rounder, as he scored some big goals for the Edmonton Oilers.

Of course, there’s a reason why Kassian has 522 penalty minutes in 313 career regular-season games. He can be a nasty presence who straddles the line.

He did as much late in Game 1, getting into it with Ryan Kesler, and then things really got out of hand. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and others were involved in “histrionics.”

(Who wants to start a Patreon to find out what Getzlaf and Andrej Sekera were saying to each other, by the way?)

It looks like the players involved were only whistled for roughing minors rather than fighting majors. This caps a tough night for Anaheim, who lost 5-3 and saw Kevin Bieksa suffer a troubling lower-body injury.

King Leon: Draisaitl collects four points vs. Ducks to give Oilers a Game 1 win

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So far, the Edmonton Oilers had been showing that they can win tight, low-scoring playoff games. And then the third period of Game 1 against the Anaheim Ducks happened.

The two teams entered the final frame tied 1-1, with smaller breaks and bounces being the story. Then just about everything happened in the third, with Leon Draisaitl guiding the Oilers to a 5-3 win to take a 1-0 series lead.

Draisaitl ended up with a goal and three assists, extending his point streak to three games (seven points during that span).

He wasn’t the only Oilers player to raise some eyebrows, and actually, the other two starring members were a lot more surprising. Mark Letestu seemed to make the early difference with two power-play goals, while low-scoring defenseman Adam Larsson found the net twice, including on the game-winner.

Phew, that’s a lot to absorb, right? This video captures the wildest scoring stretch of that period, even if there would be more:

While Connor McDavid hasn’t been bad, he’s been quiet – by his lofty standards – so far in the Oilers’ run, and that was mostly true on Wednesday. He ended up with a mere secondary assist in this one,

Yet, that might just be part of the good news for the Oilers. They advanced after McDavid had spotty series against the Sharks, and they just gave the Ducks their first postseason loss of 2017 with Draisaitl and others stealing the headlines.

Things got nasty at the end of this game, with key Ducks such as Ryan Getzlaf being prominently involved. Such moments make it clear that Anaheim isn’t likely to bow out of this one easily (and perhaps not gracefully?) but that should only make for a captivating Game 2.

That Game 2 airs Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN; you can watch online or via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

Keep an eye on Oilers’ Slepyshev (the Ducks certainly should)

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The breaks and breakaways frequently went the Edmonton Oilers’ way as they eliminated the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of their first-round series. Those results have been more of a mixed bag for Edmonton against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 tonight, though.

Anton Slepyshev is a great example of those ups and downs.

In Game 6 against the Sharks, Slepyshev used his speed to score a breakaway tally that ended up being the game-winner. (See here for those friendly breakaways.)

Slepyshev’s been burning the Ducks with his speed on Wednesday, but the Oilers have been burned in the process. For one thing, John Gibson turned aside this big chance shortly after Ryan Getzlaf gave Anaheim a 1-0 lead:

Later on in that same second period, Slepyshev got a step on the Ducks defense again. This time, he didn’t just fail to score; he took a goalie interference penalty for bumping Gibson.

With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being among those hitting posts, it might feel like it’s all against the Oilers this time around, but crossbars/postsanother theme from Edmonton’s Game 6 win vs. San Jose – have more or less balanced out.

And, one break really went Edmonton’s way: a Ducks defender broke his stick on the Oilers’ 5-on-3 opportunity, opening the door for a crucial Mark Letestu goal:

The end result is a 1-1 tie, but give the Oilers credit for not getting rattled. If Slepyshev can keep up his efforts, his speed could be a factor in a series that looks like it could be a real tug-o-war.

Jake Allen takes blame for Predators’ game-winner vs. Blues

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Let’s be honest: the St. Louis Blues owe a lot to Jake Allen‘s work against the Minnesota Wild in that first-round series.

He probably bought himself a significant amount of goodwill for that outstanding work, but Allen isn’t resting on his laurels. He admitted that “a little mistake by me cost” the Blues the 4-3 decision against the Predators, leaving St. Louis down 1-0 to Nashville.

The goal in question was Vernon Fiddler‘s unlikely 4-3 tally, which came after an unsuccessful poke check attempt by Allen:

Now, to be fair, that wasn’t even the only failed poke check that turned into a goal, as Pekka Rinne also got beat after making such an attempt:

Then again, Allen is wise to score points with teammates for taking the blame. As far as his team, head coach Mike Yeo believes that it was the second period that really made the difference.

Regardless, Allen and the Blues hope to carry over the momentum from their third-period dominance in Game 1 to Game 2 to tie the series 1-1.

That contest airs on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. (You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; here’s the livestream link.)