VANCOUVER - Manny Malhotra kept the guessing games going Saturday.
The Vancouver Canucks centre hasn't played since suffering a serious eye injury in mid-March, but all signs pointed to him being pencilled into Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final against the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
"It's gone from day-to-day to a game-time decision," said Malhotra after taking part in his club's optional morning skate.
The Canucks lead the series 1-0, with Games 3 and 4 in Boston on Monday and Wednesday.
Malhotra, a 31-year-old Mississauga, Ont., native, was injured in a game against Colorado on March 16 when a puck hit him in the eye.
Shortly after Malhotra went down, the Canucks announced he was out for the rest of the regular season and playoffs. His loss was considered a major blow after Vancouver signed him as a free agent last summer with the specific goal of helping the club win more faceoffs and reach the Stanley Cup after two straight second-round exits.
But Malhotra, a 13-year veteran whose five former clubs had never been to the final, quietly launched a comeback while undergoing an unspecified number of surgical procedures. He also helped the team off the ice, but dodged reporters until he was finally able to participate in a full practice.
"Obviously, it's an incredible position to be in," Malhotra said about his pending return. "I think that everybody that's on the ice tonight has dreamed about this at some point or another in their entire career or growing up.
"So I realize the significance of the moment. But, at the same time, once the puck's dropped, I'm going to have to get back to basics. It's just another game day."
Malhotra's pending return came while rookie fourth-line centre Cody Hodgson skated with spares and minor-league callups and was among the last to leave the ice.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault is usually coy about his lineup until the opening faceoff, and he made no exceptions this time. But for a change he spoke at length about the possibility of Malhotra playing after offering a change from his usual "day-to-day" description of his status and saying he would be a game-time decision.
Vigneault said the club would ease him into the lineup and use him on things he's good at, like faceoffs in the defensive zone.
"I'm definitely not going to use him with his linemates that he had before," said Vigneault. "That line has played real well (Raffi) Torres, (Max) Lapierre, and (Jannik Hansen) — and I have no intention of breaking that up."
Malhotra's return was anticipated at the outset of this series, but he was an unexpected no-show at the last full practice and morning skate before Game 1. Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis raised further questions Tuesday when he said Malhotra had been cleared to practice but not play in games.
The GM's comments contradicted earlier statements by Vigneault and Malhotra himself that he had been medically cleared to play in the playoffs.
"It's going to be really emotional if it happens and he's good to go," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. "Manny's been around this team throughout his injury in the last few weeks and he's been a huge part of our success this year. So it's going to be a really big boost if he comes back and we're really happy for him."
Notes: Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis, who was injured in Game 1, did not take part in the team's optional morning skate. Andrew Alberts, who took part in the morning skate, was expected to draw in for the first time since Game 3 of the second round against Nashville.