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Vokoun OK after scary moment

by Dan Rosen
The video is just about everywhere now, but the only thing that matters is Florida Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun is OK after getting whacked in the head by teammate Keith Ballard's stick in the first period of Monday's 4-3 loss to Atlanta.

Vokoun went to an Atlanta hospital and had his lacerated left ear stitched before rejoining the team for the flight back home to Fort Lauderdale. Panthers GM Randy Sexton said on a media conference call Tuesday that Vokoun did not suffer a concussion or any inner-ear damage, as was initially feared.

"He's in great spirits other than a sore ear," Sexton said.

Sexton did say the Panthers will be making some roster moves later Tuesday. They may have to call up a goalie to back up Scott Clemmensen for Wednesday's game against Colorado because Vokoun's injury is making it difficult for him to comfortably wear his goalie mask.

"As soon as we can rig something up that he can get his helmet around that ear so he can play, he'll be ready," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said on Tuesday's conference call. "It's not going to be long term."

Ballard swung his stick in frustration after Ilya Kovalchuk scored 8:54 into the first period to give the Thrashers a 2-1 lead. Using a baseball-type swing, he was trying to break his stick over the goal in frustration but instead caught Vokoun in the side of the head.

Neither the Panthers nor the NHL will discipline Ballard for his actions.

"It's a non-factor," DeBoer said. "This guy was visibly shaken and upset by the incident in the game. When we found out that Tomas was going to be fine I think he gutted it out and played the rest of the night for us. Tomas got on the plane and they had a chance to chat and sit together and there were no hard feelings.

"It's unfortunate. We don't condone it. I think organization's biggest issue now is getting the message out to the kids watching the game that it was a heat-of-the-moment play and it's not how you want to handle your frustrations. I'm sure Keith won't do it again and we're moving forward."

Ballard's night got worse as Maxim Afinogenov's game-winning goal deflected off his stick and into the net with only 5.5 seconds left in the contest.

"Obviously Keith has had some tough games the last few and the team has been losing and you see that frustration boil over in all different ways, whether it's guys taking penalties, whether it's yelling on the bench, yelling in the dressing room or whether it's slamming his stick after a goal," DeBoer said. "This one had some consequences."

DeBoer said no one on the Panthers' bench immediately realized what happened after Kovalchuk scored.

"Our trainers had to be called a couple of times because I don't think anybody on the bench realized what happened," DeBoer said. "I don't even think Keith realized he hit him. If you watch the video, he proceeded to hit his stick one more time after he hit Tomas and that tells me he didn't know."

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