BOSTON – Manny Malhotra’s dramatic return to the Vancouver Canucks lineup from a serious eye injury ensured he’ll be the least likely participant in this Stanley Cup final.
However, he’s far from the only man taking part in the NHL’s championship series who couldn’t have counted on being here a couple months ago. The Canucks and Boston Bruins have each used players during the first two games of the series that weren’t key members of their team all year long.
Here’s a look at five that are fortunate to still be playing hockey in June:
Chris Higgins, Vancouver: The 28-year-old winger was essentially playing out the string in Florida until a deadline day trade brought him west. He’s looked right at home on his fifth NHL team in the past three years, settling into a role on the second line with Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond. Higgins is averaging 17:34 of ice time during the post-season.
Tomas Kaberle, Boston: It was a full seven years between playoff games for the mobile defenceman, who has been a polarizing figure since coming over from Toronto in a February trade. The 33-year-old was reluctant to leave the Maple Leafs but this kind of opportunity wasn’t available to him there. Kaberle has eight assists in 20 playoff games this spring.
Chris Kelly, Boston: Similar to Higgins and Kaberle, he was given new life with a mid-season trade. The 30-year-old centre was one of several veterans shipped out of town by the Ottawa Senators after playing the first 463 games of his NHL career with the organization. Kelly now has a chance to get his name on the Stanley Cup.
Victor Oreskovich, Vancouver: Just making it to the NHL was an achievement for the rambunctious winger, who walked away from hockey for about 18 months between 2007 and 2009. He caught on with the Florida Panthers last season and appeared in 16 regular-season games for the Canucks this year. Oreskovich has carved out a niche for himself during the playoffs with a fast, physical style.
Jeff Tambellini, Vancouver: Half of his four career playoff appearances have come during the Stanley Cup final. The 27-year-old winger was in and out of the Canucks lineup all year long but is dressing for the team’s most important games. He played a total of just eight minutes in Games 1 and 2, but there are hundreds of other players around the league who would gladly change places for him.