VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Looking at Manny Malhotra, one wouldn’t think the Canucks’ valuable veteran forward is ready to play hockey anytime soon.
His left eye, which required two surgeries after he was hit by an Erik Johnson shot during a March 16 game against Colorado, still is swollen and discolored. He was originally thought to be out for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But the 31-year-old forward, one of the best faceoff men and penalty-killers in the league, sounds determined to give it a go, perhaps as soon as Game 2. He practiced on the fourth line at the University of British Columbia facility today and sounded afterward as if he may be on the ice tomorrow night.
“Wish I could point to a number,” Malhotra said when asked to put a percentage on his chances of playing tomorrow. “We’ll see how I feel tomorrow during the morning skate and make a decision at that point.”
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, who is affably spare with injury information, continues to say Malhotra is day to day. There was some optimism that Malhotra, who has been practicing off and on since mid-May, would play in Wednesday’s Game 1 after he was cleared for contact the previous Saturday, but he was scratched.
Malhotra had 30 points in 71 regular-season games, but his value extends well beyond his point total. He ranked second in the league in faceoff percentage (61.7 percent), and he’s been sitting in on meetings among Canucks who are on the penalty because of his special-teams expertise.
Malhotra admitted that there’s some urgency to get back in part because it’s hard to watch the opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup Final pass by.
“I don’t want this to be a sideshow,” Malhotra said. “We always talk about this in our dressing room, that the whole is much stronger than the individuals. We have a very strong focus in the room. I don’t want anything to sidetrack that.
“[A chance to play in the Final] weighs into it a little bit, but at the same time, I realize the severity of the injury and the intensity of the moment, and I realize the intensity of play has picked up since I last played. It’s not me wanting to have a sentimental shift out there and be a part of it all. It’s the fact that I feel I could contribute something to the team.”