Vancouver Canucks forward Manny Malhotra was cleared by doctors to fully participate in practice Friday, which he did, taking light contact during a 45-minute session at Rogers Arena.
The 31-year-old, who suffered an eye injury on March 16th, has been practicing with the Canucks since May 12th, but rumours of his return to game action this post-season were once thought to be outlandish at best.
While general manager Mike Gillis made it clear it’s “impossible to say” whether or not Malhotra will appear in the Stanley Cup Final, he said Malhotra’s recovery has been borderline miraculous considering it's been just 73 days since he was struck in the left eye by a puck.
“Based on what we first thought about this injury, it has definitely gone better and has gone well beyond our expectations at this point in time,” said Gillis.
“It’s gone as well as it could have gone and the most optimistic scenario has begun to play itself out. We just have to be patient enough to let that continue to play itself out and not get ahead of ourselves and you know, not put him in a position where he’s at any risk.”
Malhotra isn't currently having any issues with scaring or retina detachment and his eye is stable enough to endure light contact, contact that won’t cause any further damage and will not undo any of the good progress that has already taken place.
“If he gets through the next day or two and continues down that path,” said Gillis, “then they’ll re-evaluate him after that and see what the next step is.”
Gillis seemed as surprised at these new developments as anyone, and having been with Malhotra throughout this journey, that says a lot.
Following Malhotra’s second surgery in New York, Gillis and company were told that any number of things could go wrong and that most patients in this situation generally experience a few of them.
Not Malhotra, he seems to be the exception to the rule and that has Gillis feeling “cautiously optimistic.”
“Coming from the possibility of losing your eye to that stage this quickly, it’s absolutely remarkable.”
Malhotra was boosting moral around the Canucks even before he hit the ice; just Manny being Manny lifts spirits and during a grueling 2011 NHL Playoff run, that has meant the world to his teammates.
“To see Manny be back on the ice with us and being closer to coming back, obviously he’s still far from being back in the line-up, but he means a lot to us,” said Alex Burrows.
“He’s a great addition if he comes back, if not, I’m sure he’s going to stick around and keep giving us advice and making sure we’re sharp.”
Burrows went on to say that he is personally rooting for Malhotra, never thinking he’d be back this season, but that his expectations are realistic.
“He hasn’t played in two-and-a-half months,” said Burrows. “That was a really big injury that he suffered and it would be nice to have him back, but let’s give him time here and see how he feels.”
When the Stanley Cup Final schedule was released Thursday afternoon, Canucks fans barked that despite going seven games, either Boston or Tampa Bay would still get four days off to recover.
Now it appears that time is a blessing in disguise as it allows Malhotra to further recover, leaving his status for Game 1 of the Final in question.
“He’s come a long long way and we’re not going to put him at risk at all,” added Gillis.
Don’t call it a comeback, yet.