-- It's not too often a fourth-line center will play less than 8 minutes in a game and receive numerous ovations despite not registering a shot, let alone mind a point.
Then again, it's not too often someone accomplishes what Manny Malhotra
did Saturday night.
After suffering a catastrophic eye injury on March 16 -- one that was thought to be anywhere from career-threatening to potentially leading to blindness in his left eye -- the 31-year-old who has made a living out of anonymously stifling the game of the opposition's top scorers was firmly in the spotlight for the Vancouver Canucks
before, during and after Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins
Malhotra received a huge ovation during pregame warmups and was the recipient of a "Man-ny" chant as he took the ice. Not long after the national anthems, the chants of "Man-ny" were even stronger. Following his first shift of the game, Malhotra once again felt the love from the sellout crowd at Rogers Arena.
"I was probably the most nervous I've been in my entire career," Malhotra said of his feelings after he received the news around lunch time that he'd be in the lineup. "Coming to the rink, it felt really normal, going through the same game-day routine.
"The nerves kept getting to me. I was telling the guys, right from warmup, it was kind of sensory overload, just the noise, the crowd into it, all the towels waving. It was the first time I've seen a home crowd that excited in playoffs. 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. "
Malhotra was signed during the offseason to give the Canucks a checking-line center, faceoff ace and reliable penalty-killer. He played that role perfectly until late in the regular season, when a deflected puck caught him in the eye, ending his regular season -- and, some thought, his career.
After nearly three months away, there wasn't too much rust to his game. He won 6-of-7 faceoffs and logged 1:31 of shorthanded ice time. The Bruins' scored a rare power-play goal Saturday, but Malhotra wasn't on the ice for it.
"Obviously a long ways to go," Malhotra said of where he wants to be with his game. "The first one coming back from any time off is always a tough one. Just things like spatial awareness, knowing how much time you have when you get a puck. A lot of plays I made tonight were just chipping the puck in, chipping the puck out.
"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. But I think playing seven minutes in my first game back is a good transition into things."
Considering he was nearly flawless on faceoffs, it's probably pretty unsettling for the Bruins to know Malhotra can get better.
"As far as faceoffs go, it's obviously a lot of timing, a lot of anticipation," Malhotra said. "Over the last couple weeks as I started to work toward this goal, being able to take draws against guys like (Ryan Kesler
, Henrik Sedin
and Maxim Lapierre
), that really pushes you to get to the next level and prepare yourself.
"I think the competitive level that we have at the center position, after practice, before or after morning skates, really gets your timing back."
Besides giving coach Alain Vigneault
a more appealing option for his fourth line, Malhotra also gave his teammates an emotional lift.
"It really got us going," Alexandre Burrows
said of the crowd support for Malhotra. "Manny came back from a really big injury. Two-and-a-half months ago, we thought we wouldn't see him back. We were worried about his eye and his health. He's worked hard to get back to his point."
"It's a privilege to play in front of fans like this," Malhotra said. "When you come to Vancouver, to say that the fans here are passionate would be a gross understatement. So just to be able to be out there again, to hear them cheering, to hear an ovation like that, it definitely makes you feel like a Canuck. You just feel like a part of this family."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo