BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP)—Watching Florida forward Richard Zednik race off the ice with blood gushing from his neck after being cut by a teammate’s skate was nearly too much for the Panthers and Buffalo Sabres to continue playing on Sunday night.
They did. But it wasn’t easy.
“My mind was not on the hockey game,” Panthers captain Olli Jokinen said. “If it was my call, I would have gone to the hospital with him.”
Two hours after the Sabres’ 5-3 victory, the Panthers announced Zednik was resting comfortably at Buffalo General Hospital after having surgery. He was hurt with 9:56 left in what was a freak but frightening accident.
Zednik was circling the Sabres net behind the play and skating into the right corner, when Jokinen was upended by Sabres forward Clarke MacArthur. Jokinen fell headfirst to the ice, and his right leg flew up and struck Zednik directly on the right side of the neck.
Clutching his neck, Zednik immediately raced to the Florida bench, leaving a long trail of blood behind him. A trainer jumped on the ice to apply a towel across the player’s neck, and Zednik was immediately escorted to the Panthers’ dressing room before being loaded into an ambulance.
After a 15-minute delay, and after the Panthers were assured that trainers had stopped the bleeding, the game resumed but with little intensity or flow.
“It’s really hard to come back and focus on hockey,” Panthers assistant captain Bryan Allen said. “Hockey’s a small part of life when you see something like that happen. It’s hard to put it in the back of your mind and continue playing.”
The Sabres were equally shaken up.
“I can fully understand if they wanted to cancel the whole game,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
Describing the mood on the team’s bench, Ruff added: “It was pretty solemn. There wasn’t a lot being said. There was just more concern for Richard than anything else. … When you see something like that, it isn’t about playing anymore.”
After Buffalo squandered a 3-1 lead, Thomas Vanek scored the go-ahead goal, deflecting in Brian Campbell’s shot from the blue line, 9 minutes into the third period. Roy, with his career-high-tying 21st goal of the season, then sealed the win by scoring with 1:23 left.
Jason Pominville and Patrick Kaleta also scored for the Sabres, who improved to 6-0-2 in their past eight games. Ryan Miller stopped 22 shots in earning his 100th career win, while Campbell had three assists.
The Panthers blew an opportunity to move within one point of Southwest Division-leading Washington, which took over the top spot following a 3-2 overtime win over the New York Rangers earlier in the day.
Buffalo, meanwhile, inched to within one point of idle Boston, which holds the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.
“The game doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Campbell said. “Sure, it’s important in the standings, but it was very humbling. … The magnitude of something like that sets in pretty quickly.”
A hush fell over the crowd at HSBC Arena as Zednik was escorted off the ice and while crews scraped the blood from the ice. Zambonis were also driven out to clean the ice.
It wasn’t until the public address announcer said that Zednik was in stable condition that the crowd gave a standing ovation.
NHL vice president Colin Campbell consulted with Sabres general manager Darcy Regier and referee Bill McCreary in a tunnel after Zednik was loaded into an ambulance. Campbell attended the game in part because his son, Gregory, plays for the Panthers.
The league released a statement, which said: “The thoughts and prayers of the NHL family are with Richard Zednik, his loved ones, his teammates and the Florida Panthers organization.”
Panthers spokesman Justin Copertino said the team was making arrangements to have Zednik’s wife, Jessica, fly from South Florida to Buffalo by a charter flight Sunday night.
The team returned to Miami, but assistant general manager Randy Sexton and assistant trainer Dave Zenobi planned to stay behind with Zednik, Copertino said.
“He’s my friend so there’s nothing else you can say but hope and pray he’ll be OK,” Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun said. “I saw him on the stretcher, and this is so dangerous. I was very concerned.”
Zednik, a 12-year NHL veteran, is in his first season with the Panthers after signing with the team as a free agent last summer. After enduring a two-month slump, Zednik has been on a roll. He entered the game on a four-game point streak, in which he had six goals and three assists, giving him 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in 54 games this season.
Sabres RW Drew Stafford is out indefinitely after spraining his right ankle against Boston on Friday. … Sabres C Tim Connolly returned after missing 13 games with bone spurs in his hip, while RW Ales Kotalik (flu) did not play. … In closing a five-game road trip, the Panthers’ longest of the season, Florida returns home to play Montreal on Wednesday. Of the Panthers’ final 24 games, only 10 more are on the road.