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In first game since Zednik injury, Panthers fall to Canadiens in OT @NHLdotcom

It was almost the perfect ending for the Florida Panthers.

In their first game since forward Richard Zednik had his neck cut by teammate Olli Jokinen's skate in Buffalo on Sunday, the Panthers blew a third-period lead, were flat at the start of overtime and the Montreal Canadiens took advantage and earned a 2-1 victory on Wednesday night.

Alexei Kovalev's shot from the right circle 1:43 into overtime lifted the Canadiens to the victory. The power-play goal also left the Panthers steaming about the call they said decided the game.

"Make your own judgment," Panthers coach Jacques Martin said.

With Jassen Cullimore - who helped Zednik off the ice on Sunday - in the penalty box for hooking, the Canadiens' top-rated power play broke through.

"The refs are human and they make mistakes," Cullimore said. "And that's the way it goes."

Tomas Vokoun also made 35 saves for the Panthers, whose thoughts in recent days have been dominated by Zednik's injury.

And reminders of Zednik were everywhere.

A blood drive - a nod to Zednik needing five units of blood at Buffalo General Hospital - took place outside the building, and the team ended its pregame ceremonies with a brief video tribute in the injured forward's honor.

"I think we responded well," said Jokinen, who spoke with Zednik earlier Wednesday. "We played hard. We just didn't find a way to score.

"Zed's spirit is still here," Jokinen added. "And we're going to do all we can for him and his family."

Doctors believe Zednik could be back in South Florida by the weekend, and on Wednesday, Zednik's wife released a statement thanking countless people for their support.

"Richard continues to improve and we are encouraged each day," Jessica Zednik said. "We thank you for respecting our privacy and would ask everyone to continue to keep Richard in their thoughts over the next few days."

In other NHL games Wednesday night, it was: Atlanta 3, Washington 2 in a shootout; Boston 2, Pittsburgh 1; New Jersey 3, Ottawa 2 in overtime; Chicago 7, Columbus 2; and Buffalo 1, Toronto 0.

Steve Montador scored his fifth goal of the season in the first period for Florida. Christopher Higgins knotted the game with 7:26 left with his 18th of the season for Montreal.

Higgins had two chances to win it from relatively close range in the first 17 seconds of the extra session, and Montreal eventually cashed in with the man advantage, with Kovalev getting assists from Saku Koivu and Bryan Smolinski.

"It was really important we got the win tonight," said Montreal goaltender Carey Price, who stopped 35 shots. "We haven't been playing as well as we'd like to. It was definitely a step in the right direction."

Eric Perrin and Slava Kozlov scored on host Atlanta's first two shootout opportunities and Kari Lehtonen stopped 39 shots before denying Washington's Alexander Semin and Boyd Gordon in the shootout.

Lehtonen, who also had an assist, made a glove save on Gordon's shot to finish the win, which left the two teams tied with Carolina for the division lead.

The Thrashers improved to 7-4 in shootouts and 13-4 in overtime. They were only 1:21 away from winning in regulation, but Alex Ovechkin scored his NHL-leading 48th goal from the left circle to force overtime.

Marian Hossa had a goal and an assist for Atlanta.

Petteri Nokelainen and Vladimir Sobotka scored less than 2 minutes apart during the first period and visiting Boston held on despite allowing Evgeni Malkin's third-period goal.

The Bruins were so strong defensively most of the game, goalie Tim Thomas saw only a single shot during one 15-minute stretch of the second period and faced only 11 during the first two periods. Malkin scored his 32nd goal of the season with about 7 minutes remaining, his fourth goal in three games.

Brian Gionta swept a rebound past Martin Gerber 2:14 into overtime and host New Jersey beat Ottawa.

Gionta's drive was blocked in front, and Jamie Langenbrunner put a rebound off the right pad of Gerber. Gionta got the puck again and scored his 14th goal for the Devils, who won their second straight at home after a 2-4 skid there.

Martin Brodeur, in his 16th straight start, stopped 23 shots, and Gerber made 28 saves for Ottawa.

Langenbrunner and Karel Rachunek also scored for the Devils, and Patrik Elias had three assists.

Dustin Byfuglien scored two goals and visiting Chicago rolled to a big early lead to beat Columbus.

Robert Lang, Brent Seabrook, James Wisniewski and Martin Havlat each had a goal and an assist and Brent Sopel had two assists for the Blackhawks, who scored on three of their first four shots. Patrick Kane also scored.

Fredrik Modin, activated off the injured list earlier in the day, and Dick Tarnstrom had the goals for Columbus, which has lost seven of eight.

Ryan Miller stopped 35 shots and Paul Gaustad scored the lone goal, lifting host Buffalo.

Gaustad broke a scoreless tie 9 minutes into the third, converting Daniel Paille's pass from behind the net. Miller registered his third shutout of the season, helping Buffalo improve to 8-0-2 in its past 10 games and move into seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings, a point ahead of the idle New York Rangers.

Vesa Toskala was sharp in stopping 19 shots for the Maple Leafs, but was caught leaning the wrong way when Gaustad beat him on the short side while parked at the right post.

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