May 30, 2011, 9:17 PM EDT
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.
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.
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