VANCOUVER - Manny Malhotra has come a long way since a puck accidentally deflected into his left eye.
Monday was the best day yet, the Vancouver Canucks forward said after a scrimmage in preparation for the Boston Bruins in Wednesday’s opening game of the Stanley Cup final.
“Taking contact and taking game situations, receiving pucks in the middle and having the (defence) step up on me or going back for pucks ... ,” Malhotra said.
“That’s as close as I’ve been to game situations for a long time so I felt pretty confident in those situations.”
The free agent acquired for two-way play and leadership suffered what many felt was a career-ending injury March 16 when a puck deflected off the stick of Colorado defenceman Erik Johnson.
He has come back from surgeries in New York and faces more operations.
The team said it would be a miracle if he played again this season, but Malhotra was a fixture in the locker room wearing dark glasses in front of an eye that’s still a bit puffy.
Malhotra, who had not worn a visor in his 11-year NHL career, began skating again May 12. He participated in light practices in sweats and a full face shield, eventually wearing full gear.
The Canucks announced Saturday that he was medically cleared to play.
Coach Alain Vigneault has not committed to using Malhotra but there have been hints he could start with fourth-line duty and take important defensive zone face-offs.
“I thought he looked all right, he’s still day-to-day and we’ll see how he practises (Tuesday),” Vigneault said.
“If he is in the lineup, we’re going to use him accordingly. He’s been a good player for our team and we’ll see how much he can chip in.”
Malhotra scored 11 goals and 30 points in 72 regular-season games but is an ace in the face-off circle, winning 778 of 1,261 draws for a percentage of 61.7, second in the NHL.
He played a regular shift in Monday’s scrimmage then worked special teams’ play, taking defensive face-offs against Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler.
He went into corners and challenged puckhandlers on 5-on-3 penalty kills.
“Taking draws against Kes and Hank I felt as good as I could out there,” said the Mississauga, Ont., native. “It’s not a game situation, it’s going to be a lot more read and react out there.”
He remained non-committal on his playing status.
“If you’re ready to play, you’re ready to play either two minutes or 20 minutes. You’re going to be used however coach sees fit.”
He sounded like someone who’ll want more than two minutes.
“If I can play, it’ll be to do the things I did prior to March 16 and if I can’t do those things, well, I’m not going to be in the lineup.”
NOTES: Malhotra has two years remaining on his three-year, $7.5-million contract ... drafted seventh overall in 1998 by the New York Rangers, the Canucks are his fifth NHL club.