SUNRISE, Fla. --
Exactly one year after suffering the scariest of injuries, Richard Zednik
was the center of attention for much happier reasons.
Zednik scored his second goal at 1:02 of overtime to give Florida a 5-4 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
"It's amazing,'' said Zednik, whose neck was severely slashed by a teammate's skate blade a year ago. ''Exactly one year later and to get the game-winning goal, it's great.''
The Panthers rallied from a three-goal deficit in the third period. It was the first time in franchise history the Panthers had ever rallied from three goals down to win.
Zednik scored the game-winner when he one-timed a slap shot from the high slot off a feed from Cory Stillman. When he came out to meet reporters after the game Tuesday night, Zednik got applause from some of his teammates in the locker room.
''He's battled and we all know the road, how hard it s been for Z,'' said Panthers center Gregory Campbell. ''So everyone's happy for Z.''
No one had to remind Zednik late Tuesday morning that it was exactly a year ago that he nearly lost his life in Buffalo when his neck was lacerated by a teammate's skate.
But it's on this anniversary that the Panthers find Zednik playing some of the best hockey of his career. In the past two weeks, Zednik has scored a pair of goals by jumping over a defender and soaring through the air.
And when the Panthers play host this evening to the Toronto Maple Leafs at BankAtlantic Center, Zednik will be a healthy, happy and confident player.
"Confidence is the bottom line," said Zednik after Tuesday morning’s skate at BankAtlantic. "I feel great on the ice and at practice and I can’t wait to go on the ice and play the games."
Zednik, cut by the skate of former Panther Olli Jokinen in Buffalo, underwent surgery the evening of the accident to repair a partially severed carotid artery. He was released from Buffalo General Hospital six days after the accident. He spent the remainder of last season and this summer rehabilitating and getting back in shape. In 41 games this season, Zednik has 20 points (eight goals).
Zednik said he doesn’t like to think about the accident. "I'm looking forward." Asked if he appreciates things more since the accident, Zednik replied, "About everything."
"You enjoy everything a little more," he said. "You enjoy your times with your family, the guys in the locker room, and (that I'm) still playing hockey. "Fortunately, I'm still playing hockey and enjoying it right now, and the team is doing well."
Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said he's been impressed with Zednik's skill set, his dynamic speed and hands. And although he wasn’t coaching the Panthers last season, DeBoer called Zednik’s recovery "amazing."
"I think when something like that happens to you, I'm sure all kinds of things cross your mind, including whether you want to suit up and even get back out there again, whether it's all worth it," he said. "Considering where he was, it hasn't been easy for him. He battled the first half of the year. I think he's starting to play the best hockey since I've been here.
"He's playing with more confidence. He's getting involved more. Where I find his game has picked up is in the battle areas with defensemen. Probably with the injury, getting engaged in those areas was probably the biggest thing you had to overcome and not worry about, and he seems to be beyond that."
The Panthers can jump back over idle Carolina tonight with a victory and still have a game in hand…No lineup changes tonight. Vokoun in goal, Nick Tarnasky and Noah Welch healthy scratches, and Radek Dvorak will be in uniform tonight despite missing Monday’s practice while nursing a "tweaked" knee…