It is bordering on a medical miracle.
Vancouver Canuck centre Manny Malhotra, who suffered what was thought to be a season-ending eye injury on March 16 that at one point was perhaps considered to be career-threatening, has been cleared by doctors to fully participate in practice, including taking contact.
While no decisions have been made on playing a game as Malhotra still needs to prove to himself and the coaching staff he's capable of playing without being a liability to himself or the team, there is now a legitimate chance he could see action in the Stanley Cup final if all continues to go well.
If Malhotra plays, he will have to wear a full facial shield to protect his damaged left eye.
But the mere suggestion he could play at all this season would have been unthinkable two months ago, especially after undergoing surgery on two occasions to save the vision in the eye that was damaged by an errant puck in a game against the Colorado Avalanche.
Malhotra has been steadily ramping up the intensity of his on-ice workouts. Now, though, assured by doctors that the only way he could damage the eye is by taking direct contact by a puck or stick on the eye, he will be able to take the next step in practice and engage in contact and battle drills that will give him a better idea if he's fully ready for the rigors of an NHL Stanley Cup final playoff game.
Anyone watching Malhotra practice recently has seen that he appears comfortable taking draws. He's been working hard on his conditioning.
The questions that remain to be answered are as follows:
- Can he get himself game-ready in terms of his overall physical conditioning?
- How will the eye respond to the added level of physical contact?
- Will Malhotra be comfortable with the level of vision he has once he fully engages in game conditions in heavy traffic areas in front of the net and down low?
- Is the coaching staff comfortable inserting a player who hasn't played an NHL game since mid-March and will be operating with far less than perfect vision in one eye (though above the minimum standards as set out by the NHL with the help of a specially fitted contact lens)?
But all of these hurdles, when compared to the strides Malhotra has made already, could be most certainly be overcome in time for Malhotra to be a contributor on the ice for Vancouver in the Cup final that doesn't begin until Wednesday.
There's no question Malhotra's return to the active lineup would be a huge inspirational lift to a team that when it is firing on all cylinders is the best in the NHL.
But for now, though, it's one step at a time. If at any time Malhotra or the Canucks think the player or the team is at any kind of risk because of his return, they can always scale things back. But if Malhotra is able to knock down the final few obstacles and contribute to the Canucks' cause on the ice in this Cup final, well, it's nothing short of an extraordinary playoff story that is likely to inspire the Canucks and their fans. To say nothing of what Malhotra's on-ice contribution - a faceoff and penalty killing specialist - would mean to the team's bid to win its first ever Stanley Cup.