VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Manny Malhotra returned to practice Friday with the Vancouver Canucks, still hoping to play in the Stanley Cup finals less than three months after a career-threatening eye injury.
Malhotra skated mostly with the Canucks' reserve forwards at the University of British Columbia. Coach Alain Vigneault won't give any hints whether Malhotra will play in Game 2 on Saturday night, but the veteran center remains hopeful he can contribute in the Canucks' final games.
"This is not about me wanting a sentimental shift," said Malhotra, a faceoff specialist and standout defensive forward. "It's about me feeling I can contribute."
Malhotra hasn't played since a deflected puck hit him in the face March 16. The Canucks' third-line center underwent at least two surgeries on his left eye, but returned to practice two weeks ago with a full-face shield.
"I wish I could put it into a percentage for you, but it's going to be day-to-day," Malhotra said. "I'll see how I feel after the morning skate. We'll make a decision at that point."
Malhotra's eye appeared more swollen and closed Friday than it did last weekend, when he briefly seemed ready to return after the Canucks announced he had been cleared for contact. He stayed off the ice at recent practices amid rumors of a setback in his recovery.
"If Manny does play, obviously he's one of the best faceoff guys in the league, so he would be used a little bit more in our end without a doubt," Vigneault said.
Canucks general manager Mike Gillis said Malhotra hadn't undergone any additional surgery. The center still is "a question mark" for Game 2 and beyond, Gillis added.
"We have said all along we are going to be as patient as we possibly can with Manny," Gillis said. "There will be no risk to him before he steps on the ice in an NHL game. If we feel at any point in time that for whatever reason ... if we don't feel comfortable, he's not playing."
Vancouver defenseman Dan Hamhuis didn't skate in Friday's practice after getting hurt during the second period of Game 1, nearly crawling to the dressing room after his legs bent awkwardly while delivering a low check on Boston's Milan Lucic.
Vigneault refused to provide an update on Hamhuis' health or who might replace him in the lineup, but Game 1 scratch Andrew Alberts skated with Christian Ehrhoff at practice. Aaron Rome teamed up with Kevin Bieksa, Hamhuis' normal partner.
Ehrhoff said he suspects Vigneault will choose the 6-foot-5 Alberts, a stay-at-home defenseman with a big shot, over Keith Ballard to replace Hamhuis in Game 2.