On March 21, the Vancouver Canucks confirmed the worst fears of fans: Center Manny Malhotra(notes), hit in the left eye with a puck in a game against the Colorado Avalanche five days earlier, would "not return to the Canucks lineup for the remainder of this regular season and playoffs" based on consultation with team doctors and specialists.
But as the Canucks continued their run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Malhotra inched back onto the ice: First in workout gear and then in full gear on May 18 with his teammates. The team downplayed his presence, trying to temper expectations and hopes that he might rejoin the Canucks in the postseason.
Good luck tempering them now. Bob McKenzie of TSN reported on Friday that Manny Malhotra has gone from potentially career-threatening eye injury to being cleared by doctors for light-contact practice with the Canucks.
While no decisions have been made on playing a game as Malhotra still needs to prove to himself and the coaching staff he's capable of playing without being a liability to himself or the team, there is now a legitimate chance he could see action in the Stanley Cup final if all continues to go well.
If Malhotra plays, he will have to wear a full facial shield to protect his damaged left eye.
The injury, in case you haven't seen it:
McKenzie notes there are a slew of questions facing the team and the player before he's able to return to action, with the Finals starting on Wednesday: About his vision, his conditioning, his ability to compete at the manic level of the Cup Finals. Would the Canucks activate him as a penalty killing specialist and faceoff man?
Via Hosea Cheung, Canucks GM Mike Gillis couldn't say if Malhotra would play in the Finals, adding:
"The doctors need to be comfortable that his eye is stable, that absolutely no further damage could ever occur by him participating."
Know this: At the time of his injury, Malhotra's loss was seen as a critical blow. He was their leader at forward in penalty-killing ice time (2:45) and was at a stellar 61.7 percent on faceoffs in 1,261 attempts. He was the reason Ryan Kesler(notes) was allowed to leave the constraints of a more defensive role and blossom into a 41-goal scorer.
From a tactical standpoint, that's what he brings to the lineup. From an emotional standpoint … well, players will tell you they don't need any extra motivation when the Stanley Cup is on the line.
But it's undeniable that Malhotra's comeback from this injury would be an inspiration.