Gillis, Vigneault still worried about Malhotra

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Back in February, when the Vancouver Canucks announced that center Manny Malhotra had been placed on injured reserve and would miss the remainder of the season, some wondered if the club really did have the player’s best interests at heart.

Malhotra, of course, suffered a serious eye injury in March of 2011 when he was struck with a puck. He managed to return and play around 100 games, but he wasn’t nearly as effective as he was pre-injury.

The Canucks explained they were shutting him down for his own good, with general manager Mike Gillis saying, “The long term health of Manny Malhotra is of utmost importance to our organization.”

Skeptics, however, wondered if they’d done it for an additional $2.5 million in cap space. (The NHL, it should be noted, had no issue with the move, and Malhotra said he didn’t question Gillis’ sincerity.)

Fast forward to the present and Malhotra is six days removed from making his return to the NHL with the Carolina Hurricanes, for whom he scored the overtime winner Tuesday.

What did Gillis think of that?

“I think it’s great for Manny, but I’m still, and have been, concerned about him playing,” was Gillis’ answer today on TEAM 1040 radio in Vancouver, adding he wished Malhotra all the best.

Former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, now behind the Rangers’ bench, had a similar response when asked last weekend about his former player’s comeback.

“I’ve got mixed emotions and mixed feelings about that,” said Vigneault, per NorthJersey.com. “On one hand I know that’s what he really wants to do and he’s really worked extremely hard to get another opportunity so if I think of that, I’m happy he’s getting this opportunity. But like he had a real serious injury where we felt as an organization with our medical staff he was putting himself in a tough situation on the ice. I showed him a couple of times, ‘Manny did you see this guy here?’ Most of the time he’d answer that he could feel him. In my opinion, there was a gray area there. That’s a tough one. He’s a real quality person, real quality guy. I know he wants to play. I just hope everything works out for him.”

As for Malhotra?

“I’ve always been grateful (for) every moment I’ve played in the NHL,” he told Sportsnet’s Mark Spector yesterday. “But (the injury) puts it into perspective, just how close it was to having it all be done for me.

“After everything I’ve been through, it’s special to know that there is still a (team) who believes in me.”

Then again, Malhotra admits: “My left eye is not what it was, nor will it ever be.”

Penguins rout Capitals to take commanding series lead

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The Washington Capitals are in trouble. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Again.

Despite a dominant first period, at least in terms of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury and puck possession, the Capitals saw this game go sideways in a hurry during the second period, on the way to a 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2.

Washington is now in quite a hole, trailing its nemesis 2-0 in this second-round series.

Last year, Matt Murray stymied the Capitals. Though it’s only been two games this year, Fleury has stepped up in the absence of the injured Murray and given the Penguins solid goaltending and frustrated a dangerous Capitals lineup.

After withstanding the storm of pressure from the Capitals in the first period, the Penguins broke this game open with a trio of second-period goals. It started with a shorthanded goal from Matt Cullen, and later continued with a beautiful goal from Phil Kessel and then Jake Guentzel‘s sixth goal of these playoffs.

That led Barry Trotz to take Braden Holtby out of the game, after he gave up three goals on 14 shots, putting in Phillip Grubauer to begin the third period. The Penguins continued the onslaught.

For the Penguins, there are some injury concerns to keep an eye on.

Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot around his foot or ankle. He didn’t return. Ron Hainsey had to go to the locker room late in the third period after taking an Alex Ovechkin shot up around the head.

Game 3 goes Monday in Pittsburgh.

‘I wasn’t good enough,’ says Lundqvist after double OT loss to Senators

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The task wasn’t impossible, but certainly daunting.

The Ottawa Senators needed five goals on Henrik Lundqvist just to send Game 2 into overtime.

The Rangers goalie had been spectacular for most of this post-season entering Saturday’s contest, but the Senators, led by a sensational four-goal performance from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, found a way to break through for a 6-5 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead against New York.

They did so on just 34 shots through almost 83 minutes against Lundqvist.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Lundqvist, per the New York Daily News. “Coming up with the extra save there in the end, that’s my job. Even though it’s tough plays on deflections, I’ve got to find a way.”

On three occasions, the Rangers held a two-goal lead. That includes with under five minutes remaining in regulation. They even had a pair of shorthanded goals. But they couldn’t hang on, as Pageau scored twice in the final 3:19 of regulation to record his hat trick.

That set the stage for the eventual winner, as he beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder with a shot from his off-wing on a two-on-one rush.

With the Senators in control, the series returns to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” said Lundqvist. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly they’ve gotten the bounces here in the first two games.”

Capitals’ Holtby begins third period on the bench, Grubauer takes over in net

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Braden Holtby began the third period of Saturday’s Game 2 on the bench, giving way to Philipp Grubauer.

The Washington Capitals fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 after two periods, with Holtby allowing three goals on just 14 shots. It will be interesting to hear the reason for this decision from coach Barry Trotz following the game.

The Capitals had dominated on the shot clock, but gave up a pair of quick goals to fall further behind Pittsburgh in this game, while trailing in the series 1-0.

Phil Kessel — on a great play from Sidney Crosby — and Jake Guentzel scored 3:10 apart to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead.

Penguins’ Hornqvist hurt after blocking shot vs. Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have had to shuffle their forward combinations in the second period, after Patric Hornqvist was hurt blocking a shot in the first period of Game 2 versus the Capitals.

The Penguins forward was in obvious pain after taking a shot right around the ankle, which is a concerning development for Pittsburgh.

Per reports, he didn’t re-join the Penguins at the bench when the second period began.

Hornqvist can be a frustrating player to go up against, and he’s productive, too, with two goals and five points in six playoff games prior to Saturday.