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The Florida Panthers know their only chance of playing with Richard Zednik again this season will be if they make the playoffs.
The Panthers take to the ice for the first time since Zednik's frightening injury as they host the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday.
Zednik was rushed to hospital after he was cut on the neck by teammate Olli Jokinen's skate with 9:56 left in Sunday's 5-3 loss in Buffalo. Jokinen's blade cut Zednik's carotid artery, stopping just shy of his jugular vein, and Zednik skated to Florida's bench gushing blood.
The left wing underwent surgery, and on Tuesday his condition was upgraded to good. He also was able to be moved out of the intensive care unit at Buffalo General Hospital.
"It's a sign of how good medicine can be and how good medical people can be," Panthers coach Jacques Martin said.
The Panthers (26-27-5) returned to practice on Tuesday, and though they were still shaken, the news that Zednik's recovery time could be six to eight weeks gave them some extra incentive to reach the postseason. Florida is three points behind Carolina for first place in the Southeast Division.
Of course, returning this season is a longshot for Zednik, who has been told by doctors that a return for 2008-09 would be more realistic.
"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."
Sunday's loss wrapped up a 3-2-0 road trip, the longest of the season for the Panthers. Of Florida's remaining 24 games, 14 will be at home, where the team is just 11-12-4 and dropped eight of 10.
"We have to set it aside now and play hockey," defenseman Jassen Cullimore said of Zednik's injury. "That's what we do."
Florida has won four of five against the Canadiens (29-19-9), but lost 5-1 at home in the last meeting on Dec. 28.
Montreal has dropped three straight, including Tuesday's 3-2 defeat in Tampa Bay. Christopher Higgins and Tomas Plekanec scored for Montreal, which has managed only five goals during the losing streak.
"We're never going to worry," Higgins said. "When we play the right way, we're going to win. We just haven't been skating the last three games, and it shows."
Defenseman Ryan O'Byrne played just under 15 minutes one night after he was arrested along with right wing Tom Kostopoulos outside a Tampa nightclub. O'Byrne, a 23-year-old rookie, was accused of stealing a woman's purse, while Kostopoulos, who was scratched for the fourth time in 15 games, was charged with resisting an officer.
"I'm a professional," O'Byrne said. "There's always stuff going on in your life and obviously this is an unfortunate circumstance. The fans are going to have something to say, but all I can do is go out and play and earn my spot and help this team win games."