The Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres are both in need of wins as they chase playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. So there was a lot at stake going into Sunday night's game.
But Richard Zednik's injury changed all that.
Blood gushed from Zednik's neck after he was hurt midway through the third period of Buffalo's 5-3 victory, creating a frightening moment that delayed the game for about 15 minutes. There was also a brief discussion about postponing the game altogether.
Two hours after the game, the Panthers announced Zednik was resting comfortably at Buffalo General Hospital after having surgery. He was hurt with 9:56 left in what was a freak but frightening accident.
Zednik was behind the play and skating into the right corner of the Sabres' zone, when teammate Olli Jokinen was upended by Sabres forward Clarke MacArthur. Jokinen fell headfirst to the ice, and his right leg flew up and struck Zednik directly on the side of the neck.
Clutching his neck, Zednik raced to the Florida bench, leaving a long trail of blood. When he arrived, he nearly fell into the arms of a team trainer, who quickly applied a towel to the cut. Zednik was then helped off the ice by the trainer and teammate Jassen Cullimore, and escorted to the Panthers' dressing room before being loaded into an ambulance.
After a 15-minute delay, and after the Panthers were assured that trainers had stopped the bleeding, the game resumed but with little intensity or flow.
In other NHL games on Sunday, it was: Pittsburgh 4, Philadelphia 3; Washington 3, the New York Rangers 2, in overtime; Anaheim 3, Detroit 2; Minnesota 2, St. Louis 1 in a shootout; Los Angeles 3, Columbus 2 in a shootout; Nashville 6, Phoenix 3; and Vancouver 3, Chicago 2 in a shootout.
After Buffalo squandered a 3-1 lead, Thomas Vanek scored the go-ahead goal, deflecting in Brian Campbell's shot from the blue line, 9 minutes into the third period. Derek Roy, with his career-high-tying 21st goal of the season, then sealed the win by scoring with 1:23 left.
Jason Pominville and Patrick Kaleta also scored for the Sabres, who improved to 6-0-2 in their past eight games. Ryan Miller stopped 22 shots in earning his 100th career win, while Campbell had three assists.
Nathan Horton had a goal and assist, while Jokinen and Branislav Mezei scored for the Panthers, who lost for only the second time in six games (4-2).
The Panthers blew an opportunity to move within one point of Southwest Division-leading Washington, which took over the top spot following a 3-2 overtime win over the New York Rangers earlier in the day.
Buffalo, meanwhile, inched to within one point of idle Boston, which holds the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot.
"The game doesn't mean a whole lot," Campbell said. "Sure, it's important in the standings, but it was very humbling. ... The magnitude of something like that sets in pretty quickly."
Mike Green scored a power-play goal 23 seconds into overtime, Olie Kolzig stopped 31 shots in his 700th career game and host Washington regained first place in the Southeast Division.
Alex Ovechkin scored his NHL-high 47th goal of the season, one more than he had a year ago, and also had assists on Washington's other two goals. It was Kolzig's 296th victory, tying him with Ron Hextall for 23rd place on the career list.
Chris Drury and Sean Avery scored for New York, which had its four-game road winning streak snapped.
Evgeni Malkin scored a goal and set up three others, giving him seven points in two days, and host Pittsburgh finally figured out how to beat intrastate rival Philadelphia.
The Flyers, swept in eight games by the Penguins last season, never trailed them in their four previous victories against Pittsburgh this season with Martin Biron.
Malkin assisted on goals by Petr Sykora, Sergei Gonchar and Kristopher Letang and scored to extend a scoring surge that began when star Sidney Crosby injured his right ankle Jan. 18. Malkin has 21 points, with eight goals, in 10 games with Crosby out.
R.J. Umberger scored twice for Philadelphia.
Mathieu Schneider had a goal and an assist to lift visiting Anaheim.
Ryan Carter and Kent Huskins also scored for the defending Stanley Cup champion Ducks, who won their fourth straight. Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 27 saves.
Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen got the goals for NHL-leading Detroit, which lost its third straight.
Brent Burns had his second game-winning goal in two days, scoring in the sixth round of a shootout in Minnesota's victory over host St. Louis.
Marian Gaborik scored his 29th goal for the Wild, 3-1 against the Blues this season. Neither team has scored more than three goals in any of the games. Paul Kariya got his 14th for the slumping Blues, who have two wins in their past 13 games.
Patrick O'Sullivan scored the tiebreaking goal in the shootout after having a go-ahead goal waved off in the third period, and visiting Los Angeles snapped a four-game skid against Columbus.
Dan Cloutier, making his first start of the season and finishing with 31 saves, stopped Jason Chimera before O'Sullivan's chance.
Anze Kopitar scored twice for Los Angeles.
Ron Hainsey and Rick Nash tallied power-play goals for Columbus.
J.P. Dumont and Rich Peverley scored 23 seconds apart in the third period to lift visiting Nashville.
Dumont snapped a 3-all tie when he sent a slap shot past Mikael Tellqvist at 5:36 of the final period. Peverley scored his second of the year when he converted a pass from Radek Bonk.
Martin Gelinas added an empty-net goal at 19:20 of the third period.
Markus Naslund tied the game with 1:18 left in regulation and Ryan Shannon scored the only goal of the shootout for host Vancouver.
Shannon, in just his second game since being called up from the AHL, made contact with Nikolai Khabibulin as he spun back across his body and tucked the puck in, drawing complaints and a shot to the back of the head from the Chicago goalie.
The Blackhawks trailed 1-0 going into the third period, but Patrick Sharp tied it at 5:44, and Cam Barker gave Chicago the lead with 4:05 left.