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Malhotra cleared to play in Final

by Dhiren Mahiban /
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- When Canucks center Manny Malhotra began skating with his teammates on May 12, associate coach Rick Bowness told the media it would require a "complete miracle" for him to return to the lineup this season following a serious eye injury.

It looks like that "complete miracle" has taken place – on Saturday, doctors cleared the 31-year-old to play in the Stanley Cup Final.

"Manny has been officially cleared to play," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "He wouldn't put himself at risk, the organization would not put him at risk and obviously our medical staff wouldn't put him at risk either.

"He's been cleared to play, he's been skating with the team now for a couple of days as far as full intensity, full contact and he is basically on a day-to-day basis."

The Canucks said Friday that Malhotra had been cleared for light contact. One day later, a visibly emotional Malhotra addressed the media at Rogers Arena for 15 minutes. It marked the first time he had spoken to the media since March 16, when he took a puck in the left eye during a game against Colorado.

"Obviously it's a very exciting prospect for me coming from where I was two months ago and making the statement the season was over to potentially having a chance to play in the NHL Stanley Cup Final is incredibly exciting for me," he said. "I've been monitored almost daily the past two months now, the doctors were pleased with the progression and the way things were looking and with the exercise I was doing, the activity I was getting into, there was no change in my status.

"They felt and saw that it was an opportunity, if I felt confident enough and physically ready enough with the contact and the awareness out there, playing could be a possibility."

Malhotra was chasing down a loose puck with Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson early in the second period of Vancouver's 4-2 win when it deflected and caught him in the eye.

Six days after the incident, the Canucks issued the following statement: "Following an initial procedure and continued treatment it has been determined through consultation with team doctors and specialists that Manny Malhotra will not return to the Canucks lineup for the remainder of this regular season and playoffs. No further comment will be made at this time."

However, he began skating by himself in a tracksuit at Rogers Arena on May 11. One day later, he joined his teammates participating in simple drills at the University of British Columbia.

Throughout the recovery process Malhotra said he received advice from former Canucks defenseman Mattias Ohlund along with his friend and former teammate Bryan Berard.

"I spoke with (Ohlund) two days after the injury happened," Malhotra said. "He put a lot of things to rest for me, and just kind of clarified the road I'd be heading down."

Ohlund was struck in the eye with a deflected puck during a preseason game in 1999 and missed 38 games. Berard was struck in the eye by the stick of Marian Hossa, then with Ottawa, during the 1999-2000 season. He missed the remainder of that season and the entire 2000-01 season.

"Berard, who I played with in Columbus and New York, he was a big part of my recovery," Malhotra said. "In terms of answering a lot of questions I had, he reassured me of a lot of things, the lingo that a lot of the doctors were talking, and understanding where I was as each step went on.

"He was a real friend to me through this whole process."

Malhotra has already undergone two surgeries on the eye and is supposed to have one more, but according to GM Mike Gillis, the final procedure is not necessary for Malhotra to resume playing.

Vigneault wouldn't confirm when Malhotra would play again saying he doesn't discuss lineups. Malhotra had 11 goals and 30 points in 72 games while centering the Canucks' third line.
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