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Playing With Heavy Hearts

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com

 
“When we step on the ice (Wednesday) night, our heads have to be in the right place. Our focus is getting those two points and, when it’s over, we’re going to do what we can to help Richard and his family.” Panther center Brett McLean.
 
The Panthers will be without forward Richard Zednik (left) when they take on the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)
CORAL SPRINGS - The Panthers went back to work Tuesday morning with heavy hearts.
 
Two days after Richard Zednik’s gruesome accident in Buffalo, the Panthers skated across IncredibleIce with the knowledge their teammate was improving and the playoffs were still very much within their grasp.
 
After addressing the Panthers early Tuesday morning, GM and coach Jacques Martin supervised a 90 minute practice as the team prepared for Wednesday’s home game at BankAtlantic Center against the Montreal Canadiens.
 
Martin said it was “comforting” to his players to know Zednik was being removed from intensive care and his condition was being upgraded from ‘stable’ to ‘good’ after surgery Sunday evening on his carotid artery.
 
Martin said the idea Tuesday was for players to get their focus back on hockey after going through the tumult of the previous 48 hours. But if anything, these Panthers have proven over the past five months to be one of the most resilient Panther teams in recent history.
 
Since the opening month of the season, the Panthers have continually been hit with injuries. Just a week ago, they were without four of their top nine forwards and four top defensemen.
 
Yet, somehow, the Panthers have trudged along and find themselves in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
 
“I think what defines a team, what has to define a team, is that everyone has to be interchangeable,” said center Brett McLean. “If you lose a player, someone has to step into that void. Everybody has to do each other’s job. I think that’s been important for us to stay in this race.
 
“There hasn’t been one time we looked at our dressing room and said we haven’t put out a really strong team on the ice for that night. Obviously, you’d like to have everyone healthy. It’s tough to lose certain players. But I think we’re very strong with the players we have that are healthy and can still win our division.
 
“As horrible as it was what happened on Sunday, when we’re on the ice we still have to do our very best. Our jobs don’t change.”
 
The injuries, said assistant coach Mike Kitchen, have provided opportunities for rookies and veterans.
 
“It gives players like Tanner (Glass), David Brine and (Anthony) Stewart to see where they are,” Kitchen said. “Guys who have been healthy, who’ve been with us from the start of the season, they have to step up, too. They have more responsibility, they need to provide a little more leadership, helping the younger guys.
 
“Adjustments have to be made. It’s tough on the coaching staff. You never have any continuity on your lines. Sometimes you’re chemistry can be thrown off. But sometimes you can find chemistry.”
 
Adjustments will continue these next few weeks. Beginning Wednesday, Ville Peltonen will fill in for Zednik alongside McLean and Jokinen. Rob Globke, called from the Panthers’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., will also play Wednesday. And if all goes well, Rostislav Olesz could be back in the lineup for Friday game at home against the Capitals.
 
“Obviously, it was tough,” said McLean of Tuesday’s practice. “Heavy hearts and lots weighing on our minds. The important thing is it sounds like he’ll be able to take care of his wife and watch his daughter grow up, and that’s what’s important right now.
 
“We need to focus on that for him and the fact we’re still trying to win our division. We’re right there.”
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