VANCOUVER – Manny Malhotra returned to the Canucks lineup on Saturday night, and his presence was felt immediately. The 31-year-old center lost just one faceoff and finished the night 6-for-7 in the circle.
On his first shift, with much of the 18,860 at Rogers Arena on their feet, Malhotra cleanly won a faceoff at center ice from Chris Kelly back to defenseman Andrew Alberts.
Any questions of whether he was fit to play, having suffered such a serious eye injury, were quickly washed away as Malhotra took a good hard hit from Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid deep in the Bruins' end while he was on the forecheck.
Malhotra, who was flanked by Victor Oreskovich and Jeff Tambellini in Game 2 on Vancouver's fourth line, finished the night with 13 shifts and 7:26 of ice time in the Canucks' 3-2 overtime win.
The fourth line's ice time in Game 2 was significantly more than that of Game 1 where a line of Alexandre Bolduc, Oreskovich and Tambellini didn't even receive three minutes. Only Tambellini played more than two minutes (2:30) in the Canucks' 1-0 win.
Bolduc, who was replaced by Malhotra, saw just three shifts in Game 1 and won one of two faceoffs he took.
"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," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "He was real good on faceoffs, he was good on the ice and he created a scoring chance."
Tambellini and Oreskovich finished the night playing nine and 10 shifts, respectively. Tambellini had 5:50 of ice time, while Oreskovich had 6:20.
Nearly two minutes of Malhotra's ice time was spent on the penalty kill as he was paired alongside both Maxim Lapierre and Ryan Kesler in different situations.
"(The fourth) line played more minutes than throughout the San Jose series and I think obviously more than in the first game against Boston," Vigneault said. "I'm excited to have (Malhotra) back, and I think he's only going to get better as we move forward here."
Malhotra, who was a first-round pick of the New York Rangers in 1998, signed as a free agent with the Canucks last summer and spent much of the season centering the team's third line, skating with Raffi Torres and Jannik Hansen.
Vigneault used several different line combinations on the fourth line throughout the season to develop an affective, reliable, line without much success. Then at the February trade deadline, Canucks GM Mike Gillis acquired center Maxim Lapierre from the Anaheim Ducks.
The belief was Lapierre would bring experience and consistency to the Canucks fourth line, which was struggling to see any significant minutes.
For about two-and-a-half weeks, the Canucks had significant depth at center with Henrik Sedin centering the top line, Kesler as the middle man on the second line, Malhotra penned in as the third-line center and Lapierre in the middle on the fourth line.
However, the depth took a significant hit on March 16 when Malhotra was struck in his left eye by a deflected puck during the second period of Vancouver's 4-2 win against Colorado.
Malhotra was initially scheduled to miss the remainder of the season and the playoffs, and Lapierre was eventually moved into the third-line center role as the Canucks were once again left juggling their fourth line.
However, on May 12, Malhotra began skating with his teammates once again culminating in his return to the Canucks' lineup for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
"I was probably the most nervous I've been in my entire career," said Malhotra after the overtime win. "I guess I really didn't settle down till after my first shift. It was obviously a great feeling, the ovation I got for my first shift.
"As we go forward here, I'll become more confident with the puck again, start to try to make more plays, skate with the puck."