Two days before the opening of the Stanley Cup final, the Vancouver Canucks had a full-on scrimmage Monday, reminiscent of training camp-style workouts, in the hopes of getting their playing legs back, after what will amount to eight full days off since eliminating the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference final.
Prominent in the mix: centre Manny Malhotra, who received medical clearance to play in the final after suffering a serious eye injury in mid-March. Officially, Malhotra is listed as day-to-day and coach Alain Vigneault will never tip his line-up until game time as a matter of principle. But if Malhotra is healthy, they have little to lose in getting him back in, given how little their fourth line played against the Sharks anyway.
To drop a five-minute per night forward in favour of Malhotra, a defensively sound face-off maestro, makes too much sense.
"It keeps getting better every day," said Malhotra, afterward. "I felt a little bit more confident today than I did the last practice day.
Malhotra is playing with a full shield, after a carom off the stick of Colorado's Erik Johnson clipped him in the eye two-and-a-half months ago. At the time of the injury, it was feared that Malhotra might lose the sight in his eye, putting his career in jeopardy. Malhotra admits he does not have 20-20 vision in his eye, but didn't have 20-20 vision in the first place.
"It's just a matter of conditioning," said Malhotra, "to see how I feel, the pace of play, and to make sure I'm comfortable enough and confident enough to make sure I'm protecting myself and being safe out there."
Ultimately, the game-like simulation probably helped Malhotra more than any other player, given how long he's been out of the line-up.
"I had a pretty decent feel for the speed of things and just executing plays. It's not game speed, but obviously, it's the best action I've seen in a long time."
With so many spares up from their AHL affiliate in Winnipeg, the Canucks had the bodies to ice two full teams for the scrimmage - and the blue team, which won the scrimmage over the green squad, posed for a picture after it was over. It was that light-hearted at Rogers Arena for the most part yesterday.
Doctors have given defenceman Christian Ehrhoff the green light to return for the opener after injuring his shoulder midway through the San Jose series and missing the clinching game. Ehrhoff's presence in the Stanley Cup final against fellow German Dennis Seidenberg is getting a fair bit of press back home, given the fact that whoever ends up in the winner's circle will just be the second German-born Cup champion after Uwe Krupp with the 1996 Colorado Avalanche.
"Obviously, with Dirk Nowitzki playing in the NBA Finals, it's definitely a lot of interest in U.S. sports right now," said Ehrhoff. "That's definitely very special for German hockey right now. Hopefully, it's going to be me."
Funny line from Bruins coach Claude Julien after his team practiced in Boston Monday and before flying out to Vancouver. Julien was asked about the Green Men - the Spandex-suited funny men that taunt visiting players in the penalty box.
Julien suggested his players cast a vote that the Green Men be replaced for the opener by the same female Vancouver fan that flashed the San Jose Sharks' Ben Eager in the last round.
"I think our guys sent an e-mail asking for the other one that was there to replace them," said Julien, to laughs all around. "Not the one dressed in green, [the one]not dressed at all for that matter.
Julien went on to say: "I think those things are great for hockey, as long as they don't go overboard. It's entertainment and every rink has its own identity. So we'll see who sits next to the penalty box when we get there."
Alex Burrows was asked a question about sometime linemate Ryan Kesler's pain threshold in the context of Kesler's gritty play in the game that eliminated San Jose. Kesler appeared to suffer a leg injury, but eventually returned and scored the tying goal to force overtime. Burrows's view on Kesler's ability to gut it out: "Probably he got beat up by his sister a lot when he was younger."