Manny Malhotra’s comeback for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals after suffering a terrible eye injury in mid-March tonight is going to be one of the lasting memories we’ll have regardless of how things turn out for his Vancouver Canucks. Given that Malhotra very nearly lost the eyesight in his left eye thanks to taking a puck in the eye in a game against Colorado, seeing him play tonight was something truly special.
Malhotra played just 7:26 of tonight’s game but compared to the ice time the guy he replaced, Alexandre Bolduc, got in Game 1 (less than two minutes) it’s a virtual eternity for a guy playing his first game in nearly three months. While it’s just one game he had the jitters going big time tonight but settled in fast.
“I was excited I was going to have the chance to play, but probably the most nervous I’ve been in my entire career,” he said.
“I guess I really didn’t settle down ’til after my first shift,” Malhotra said. “It was obviously a great feeling, the ovation I got for my first shift. I think it kind of put a little bit more nerves on me, wanting to do something out there, execute. Once I got out there, I felt a little bit better, started to skate.”
As for how he played, coach Alain Vigneault said before tonight’s game that he’d specialize in faceoffs and play on the fourth line. He did both of those things and did wonders in the faceoff circle going 6-7 (86%) on the draws he took tonight. The lone man to beat him on a faceoff? Rich Peverley. Malhotra took his draws against seven different Bruins and beat each of Greg Campbell, Chris Kelly, Michael Ryder, Mark Recchi, Patrice Bergeron, and David Krejci once apiece.
While Malhotra didn’t score any points, that’s not his job out there. Defending and winning faceoffs is his game and while he’s not logging the big ice time he did during the regular season (he averaged 16:10 of ice time this year) it’s a good first game back for him. The Canucks can’t expect that he’ll come back immediately and play the same way, but tonight was encouraging especially for coach Vigneault.
“It was a real happy moment for our whole group to be able to put Manny in the lineup and to have him play the way he did. He did exactly what we all expected. He was real good on face-offs. He was good on the ice. He created a scoring chance. That line played more minutes than throughout the San Jose series and I think obviously more than in the first game against Boston,” Vigneault said.
“So I’m excited to have him back and I think he’s only going to get better as we move forward here.”
If Vigneault is that encouraged by things, seeing how he’ll respond on the road in Game 3 will provide a major league test for him. As Malhotra has shown in his comeback from this injury, you can never count him out. As for the Bruins, they have to be worried that the Canucks are getting a major contributor to their cause back and in fine playing form. That sort of thing happening for the team up two games to none can be disarming.