NEW YORK (AP) -If the New York Rangers are going to pull off one of sport's biggest comebacks, they will have to do it without premier motor mouth Sean Avery.
The agitating forward will spend the next few days in the hospital after lacerating his spleen during Tuesday night's loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
News of Avery's hospitalization created quite a stir Wednesday, following a report that the 28-year-old had suffered a cardiac arrest and was not breathing when he arrived at the hospital.
"The first time I saw the news, it was really concerning," said Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Avery's former teammate. "I heard cardiac arrest. We got (to practice) and heard ruptured spleen. It's still a severe injury, but sounded a lot worse."
Still, New York will be without Avery as the Rangers try to stave off elimination Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, stuck in a 3-0 series hole against Pittsburgh.
Avery was injured during Tuesday night's 5-3 loss from a hit, possibly in the first period, but played throughout the game despite worsening pain.
He took seven shifts in the first period, five in the second, and seven in the third. He spent 4 minutes, 58 seconds on the ice in the final frame - only 10 seconds fewer than the first.
Rangers spokesman John Rosasco said Avery was evaluated at the arena, then rode in a car with team physician Dr. Andrew Feldman to St. Vincent's Medical Center and walked in shortly after the game.
A CT scan revealed the lacerated spleen, the team said, and it didn't require surgery. Rosasco said Avery is expected to make a full recovery.
The spleen is an organ about the size of a fist on the left side of the body, behind the stomach. It helps the body fight infection and filters the blood. A person can live without a spleen, although they lose some of their ability to fight infections.
"He was never in a life-threatening situation," Rosasco said.
The Daily News first reported Avery had been hospitalized, quoting sources who said he was rushed to St. Vincent's Medical Center in cardiac arrest and not breathing around 3 a.m.
"Not true," Rangers coach Tom Renney said after practice. "Our medical people were quick to react to that and did a great job. On my way home I knew that he was on his way to the hospital, and I got home before 3 a.m."
Avery's mother, Marlene, told the Toronto Sun that Avery's spleen had not ruptured, but he had internal bleeding. Michael Fagan, spokesman for St. Vincent's, said the forward was in "stable" condition.
Although the Rangers know they will be without Avery as they try to extend their season, the status of centers Chris Drury and Blair Betts was unclear. Renney said Betts might have facial fractures after he was struck while blocking a shot in the second period.
Drury was hampered by a torso injury that also occurred in the middle frame.
"We'll see how they're doing (Thursday) morning as to whether or not they can participate," Renney said.
Only two teams in NHL history have won a series after trailing 3-0 - the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs in the finals versus Detroit, and the 1975 New York Islanders in the second round against Pittsburgh.
The Boston Red Sox won the 2004 AL championship series after falling behind the New York Yankees 3-0 in baseball's greatest postseason comeback. No NBA team has accomplished the feat.
"Outside this room I don't think there is many people who think we can turn it around," Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr said. "But what's important is that I think we do. I think because we have nothing to lose, it makes us a very dangerous team."
Avery will be missed by the Rangers, 33-14-10 with him this season and 9-13-3 when he was out with injuries. He was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in February 2007 and sparked the team's playoff run in which the Rangers went 17-6-6 in games he played.
"It's a tough loss to lose him, but we've got a lot of guys in here. Guys have to step up, and we have to concentrate on the next game," forward Ryan Callahan said
Avery had an assist on the Rangers' second goal Tuesday.
"He's an important part of our team, obviously," forward Brandon Dubinsky said. "At the same time, we have a job to do, and it starts (Thursday) night. We can't sit here feeling sorry for ourselves and being sad and having the 'poor me' thought because one of our players is out."
Avery, set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season, is known for pushing the envelope on the ice and off it.
In the Rangers' first-round victory over New Jersey, Avery frustrated Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. The highlight came in Game 3 when Avery planted himself in the crease with his back to the action and faceguarded the goalie.
The NHL moved the next day to forbid the activity with the so-called "Avery Rule."
Nonetheless, Brodeur was so incensed by Avery's crease-crashing and trash-talking that he refused to shake his hand after the Rangers' clinching victory in Game 5. Avery tied for the team lead with three goals in the series.
In his time with the Red Wings, Kings and Rangers, he has elevated a knack of riling people into an art form. His targets find themselves mouthing off, or worse, getting so angered that they draw a penalty.
"On the ice, things always happen," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "It's emotional and intense. Guys are not the best of friends on the ice, but you never want to see someone's health in jeopardy. I think we all wish him the best.
"He's a guy who brings a lot of emotion to his team. I think we are a good example, we learned from when we lost some guys that other guys step up. When you lose guys you push harder to be better. So I don't think any of us will take that for granted."
Avery has also had an ongoing feud with 41-year-old Penguins forward Gary Roberts, who has yet to play in this series. With a foot injury sustained by center Maxime Talbot on Tuesday, Roberts could find his way back into the lineup Thursday.
Despite his 21 seasons of NHL experience, Roberts lost his cool during a November game and took a 4-minute, high-sticking penalty against Avery that led to a goal in a Rangers victory.
Roberts called Avery "an idiot" after his antics with Brodeur, but took a softer tone when told of the injury.
"There's hockey and then there is life and your health. You don't wish that on anybody," Roberts said. "I don't know Sean personally away from the rink. Obviously, we've had our comments throughout the media, but truthfully when it comes to this kind of stuff you just hope that he makes a full recovery."
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.