Vancouver forwards Maxim Lapierre, left, and Manny Malhotra share a laugh… (Darryl Dyck / Associated…)
Reporting from Vancouver, Canada — Two days between games can seem like an eternity during the Stanley Cup finals. But the timing might be right for Vancouver Canucks center Manny Malhotra to play for the first time since he suffered a devastating eye injury March 16.
Malhotra, a faceoff specialist and locker-room leader, practiced Friday and said he'd been cleared to play in Game 2 against the Boston Bruins on Saturday at Rogers Arena. However, he was forced off the ice last week after making rapid progress and said the unpredictable course of his recovery leaves his status as day to day.
"I don't want this to be a sideshow," he said after the Canucks practiced at the University of British Columbia. "This is not me wanting to have a sentimental shift out there, be a part of it all. It's a fact that I feel I could contribute something to the team. But more importantly, we're on the right track."
General Manager Mike Gillis denied reports that Malhotra recently underwent emergency surgery but said the 31-year-old had endured "multiple little, small procedures throughout this entire time" that are common for victims of eye injuries. Malhotra, struck in the left eye by a deflected puck, was not expected to return this season.
Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who sustained an undisclosed injury early in the second period of Vancouver's 1-0 victory in Game 1, did not practice Friday. Instead, former Bruin Andrew Alberts was paired with Christian Ehrhoff. Coach Alain Vigneault cautioned against reading much into that, but Vigneault usually deploys the same lineup in games as in practices.
Alberts has appeared in three of the team's 19 playoff games.
"It's never easy to sit out," he said. "As long as the team's winning, I'm happy for them. … It's nice to work hard and finally get a shot here, hopefully."
The Canucks used 13 defensemen during the season and nine during the playoffs without missing a beat.
"Our back end, they're the backbone of our team," Henrik Sedin said. "We rarely played with our top six defensemen — whoever they are. I can't even really tell you. We've got nine defensemen that can play."
Both teams talked Friday about what they intend to do differently in Game 2.
After scoring one goal in their last two games, the Bruins are eager for production from their top line of Nathan Horton, David Krejci and Milan Lucic, which had 13 fruitless shots at Roberto Luongo on Wednesday. The Bruins also want to blunt the Canucks' quick transition game.
"The neutral zone, we weren't getting pucks deep. That's what was giving them the speed that they want, the counterattack that they wanted," Boston center Patrice Bergeron said. "We're going to make a better job, especially in the neutral zone, at putting pucks deep and having a better forecheck."
The Canucks want to sustain the high tempo they established in the third period after shaking off the rust of a week between games, and to connect on the power play. They were foiled six times by the Bruins' penalty-killing box formation.
"We've got to get more movement," Sedin said. "I thought we moved the puck well and we got the looks that we wanted to, but we didn't get guys moving in and out like we wanted to out of the box. We were standing in their box and keeping it outside. That's pretty easy to defend if you do that."
Teams that had a 2-0 lead in the finals have won the Cup 42 of 46 times since the best-of-seven format was adopted in 1939. The last exception was the 2009 Detroit Red Wings, who had a 2-0 series lead but lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins.