CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) -With minds still occupied by teammate Richard Zednik's gruesome neck injury, the Florida Panthers returned to practice Tuesday morning seeking to regain a needed sense of normalcy.
As the Panthers skated for the first time since the accident that instantly became the NHL's dominant topic, Zednik remained hospitalized 1,350 miles away in Buffalo, still in intensive care.
But doctors believe he didn't suffer any long-term brain or nerve damage, and one surgeon described Zednik as "very lucky."
Panthers coach Jacques Martin said Zednik should be released from intensive care later Tuesday.
Zednik was critically injured Sunday night in the third period of the Panthers' game at Buffalo. Teammate Olli Jokinen was upended and his razor-sharp skate blade pierced Zednik's neck, opening a deep gash that stopped just shy of the 32-year-old's jugular vein.
A significant amount of blood immediately began pouring from the 1 1/2-inch wound, leaving a wide, ghastly red trail on the ice as Zednik skated to the Panthers' bench, desperate for help. His carotid artery - which pumps blood to the brain - was cut, and emergency surgery that night at Buffalo General Hospital probably saved his life.
"It's hard to say what would have happened under other circumstances, but clearly, the care he got initially by the staff at the arena, I think, saved his life," said Robert McCormack, the hospital's clinical chief of emergency medicine.
Zednik never lost consciousness. He actually complained that Sabres' orthopedic surgeon Dr. Les Bisson was applying too much pressure to his neck in an effort to stop the bleeding.
"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."
By the time he reached the hospital, Zednik needed five units (roughly five pints) of blood, a figure that suggests one-third of the blood in his body gushed from the wound before bleeding could be controlled.
And by all accounts, his recovery was going as well as could be expected.
"It's a sign of how good medicine can be and how good medical people can be," Martin said.
Shortly after Dr. Sonya Noor checked in on Zednik one day after stitching him back together, the Panthers' forward already had a question.
"He actually asked me when he could go back to training?" the vascular surgeon said with a smile. "And I said, 'Next season."'
But that's a far better prognosis than the one many feared a day earlier, when Zednik raced off the ice.
"He looks very good. He's alert, awake, oriented. He remembers what happened last night. ... He's right on target," said Noor, who performed the one-hour surgery. "He's with his wife upstairs. They're talking, and we're just very, very happy. We were all lucky last night, not just Richard."
Zednik, who was cooperative and never lost consciousness on his way to surgery, had several things going for him.
Doctors were astonished the skate blade did not hit any other arteries or veins, including the jugular, or cause any major nerve damage. It also helped that the artery was not entirely severed - "It was hanging by a thread," Noor said. That lessened the time it took for the carotid to be clamped as it was reattached, and decreased the chances of brain damage.
"Luck," was a factor, according to Noor. "He might have some hoarseness and that's about it at this point."
Zednik could be discharged from the hospital by this weekend.
A 12-year veteran, Zednik had 15 goals and 11 assists in 54 games this season, his first with the Panthers, and was clearly playing his best hockey of the season.
He didn't manage a single point over 16 games - spanning 361 shifts and 4 hours, 32 minutes of on-ice time - between Dec. 28 and Feb. 1. But he had six goals and three assists in the four games that preceded Sunday's game in Buffalo, giving the Panthers a clear boost as the team tries to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
The Panthers entered Tuesday in fourth place in the Southeast Division, two points behind Washington for first place and the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. The Caps visit Florida Wednesday night, and forward Rob Globke was summoned from the Panthers' American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester to fill Zednik's roster spot.
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, N.Y. and Associated Press Writer Sarah Larimer in Miami contributed to this report.