Canucks C Malhotra unlikely to play in Game 1

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VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA (AP) - Center Manny Malhotra is unlikely to return from his career-threatening eye injury when the Vancouver Canucks open the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday night.

Although Malhotra sat out practice Tuesday, Canucks general manager Mike Gillis refused to call it a setback in Malhotra’s surprising comeback. Gillis still indicated Malhotra won’t play in Game 1.

Malhotra was hit in the left eye by a deflected puck March 16, and has since undergone at least two surgeries.

“This has been a day-to-day thing all along,” Gillis said. “Today was a day where they felt it would be best if he stayed away. He’ll be back around the team (Wednesday), we anticipate. We have to be really patient with this. We have to rein him in a little bit, because he’s very enthusiastic.”

Malhotra returned to practice two weeks ago, skating in a track suit and a full-face shield. He was cleared for light contact last Friday, and Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said last weekend that Malhotra had been cleared to play in the Stanley Cup finals.

Malhotra is a faceoff specialist and a gifted defensive forward. He was second in the NHL in faceoff wins at 61.7 percent and a big part of the league’s top-ranked penalty-kill when he was hurt.

Malhotra was expected to return on the fourth line instead of his usual third-line shutdown role in the Stanley Cup finals, but Alexandre Bolduc said Tuesday he’ll center Vancouver’s fourth line in Game 1 with speedster Jeff Tambellini and Victor Oreskovich. Bolduc and Tambellini have appeared in just two postseason games each this spring.

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