Manny Malhotra makes emotional return

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The crowd chanted "Manny! Manny!" as he took his first shift and again when his mug filled the Jumbotron.

Manny Malhotra's return Saturday night from a career-threatening eye injury almost three months ago got the crowd and his teammates going.

"It definitely got me thinking from March 16 to where I am now," Malhotra said of the emotional reception. "It's a privilege to play in front of fans like this. When you come to Vancouver, to say that the fans here are passionate would be a gross understatement. So just to be able to be out there again, to hear them cheering, to hear an ovation like that, it definitely makes you feel like a Canuck. You just feel like a part of this family."

Malhotra had not played since a puck hit him in the face. He had two surgeries on his left eye, and he returned to practice two weeks ago.

Overtime hero Alex Burrows said Malhotra's reception was inspirational for the team.

"It was amazing. It really got us going early," said Burrows. "Two months ago, we never thought we'd see him back. It's a huge bonus for us."

Malhotra said he was telling the truth Saturday morning when he said he'd be a game-time decision.

"It wasn't until after lunch that I knew I was going to go," said Malhotra. "I was excited I was going to have the chance to play, but probably the most nervous I've been in my entire career. Coming to the rink felt really normal, going through the same game-day routine. Again, the nerves kept getting to me. I was telling the guys, right from warm-up, it was kind of sensory overload -- just the noise, the crowd into it, all the towels waving. It was the first time I've seen a home crowd that excited in playoffs.

"I guess I really didn't settle down until after my first shift. It was obviously a great feeling, the ovation I got for my first shift," he added. "I think it kind of put a little bit more nerves on me, wanting to do something out there, execute. Once I got out there, felt a little bit better, started to skate."

Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault believed the time was right.

"It was a real happy moment for our whole group to be able to put Manny in the lineup and to have him play the way he did," Vigneault said. "He did exactly what we all expected. He was real good on faceoffs. He was good on the ice. He created a scoring chance. ... So I'm excited to have him back and I think he's only going to get better as we move forward here."

Malhotra, wearing a full face shield and centering the fourth line, played 13 shifts for 7:26 minutes and won six of seven faceoffs. Hard to ask for much more after all the time he missed.

"The first one coming back from any time off is always a tough one, just things like spatial awareness, knowing how much time you have when you get a puck," Malhotra said. "As we go forward here, I'll become more confident with the puck again, start to try to make more plays, skate with the puck. But I think playing seven minutes in my first game back is a good transition into things."