- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2008

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) — Upon hearing Richard Zednik’s recovery from a life-threatening neck laceration could last six to eight weeks, Olli Jokinen checked his calendar.

That would be playoff time in the NHL.

And suddenly, the Florida Panthers have a huge source of postseason motivation.

Zednik continued what some termed a remarkable recovery yesterday, when his condition was upgraded to good and he was moved out of the intensive care unit at Buffalo General Hospital. That was just two days after Jokinen’s razor-sharp skate blade sliced the 32-year-old forward’s neck, cutting his carotid artery and stopping just shy of his jugular vein.

As Zednik recovers, so do the Panthers, who returned to the ice still somber and shaken but also somewhat uplifted by the continued good reports about their teammate.

“We’ve got 24 games to go,” Jokinen said. “If we do our jobs, there is a possibility Richard’s going to play with us and join the team in the playoffs. The doctors say six to eight weeks. … There’s a possibility he could play this year. So every game now it’s going to be big, big for us.”

Playing again this season is a real long shot for Zednik. Doctors in Buffalo already have told him next year is the realistic return target, and yesterday Dr. Sonya Noor — who operated on the forward Sunday night — said she’s recommending he not resume strenuous activity for three months.

Still, the notion just might be enough of a reason for the playoff-starved Panthers to have some hope.

“We have to set it aside now and play hockey,” said Florida defenseman Jassen Cullimore, who helped Zednik off the ice. “That’s what we do.”

The Panthers hope Zednik can travel home to South Florida by the weekend.

He has a photo of his 4-year-old daughter at his hospital bedside, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has phoned to check on Zednik’s condition and progress.

“He is awake and in good spirits,” Noor said. “He has minimal neck swelling or discomfort. He is speaking quite well. His voice is not hoarse. He’s hungry. He wanted eggs for breakfast.”

Noor said Zednik will be asked to sit up and walk a few steps over the next couple days, and if he can do those things, a discharge plan will be discussed.

Knowing that Zednik — who can talk and is alert — is doing as well can be expected, the Panthers also felt a sense of relief. Zednik isn’t believed to have suffered any long-term brain or nerve damage, and one surgeon described him as “very lucky.”

“It’s a sign of how good medicine can be and how good medical people can be,” Panthers coach Jacques Martin said.

The accident remains the dominant topic in the NHL, and to Clint Malarchuk — a goaltender whose neck was slashed in a similar incident in a game at Buffalo in 1989 — it resonated deeply. He won’t watch the Zednik incident, but has offered to meet with Zednik to talk about anything that’s on his mind.

“For any players who are traumatized like this, it’s pretty gruesome,” Malarchuk said.

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