SUNRISE, Fla. – Exactly one year after suffering the scariest of injuries, Richard Zednik was the centre 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.
Brett McLean, Nathan Horton and Ville Peltonen also scored for Florida, which moved past Carolina into eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers improved to 10-3-3 since Jan. 1.
Niklas Hagman scored twice for Toronto, which came in with a 3-1-1 mark in its last five games. Jamal Mayers and Nik Antropov added goals, while Jason Blake, Dominic Moore and Pavel Kubina each had two assists.
Florida’s Tomas Vokoun stopped 35 shots. Vesa Toskala made 33 saves for Toronto.
Florida beat Toronto for the third time in three meetings. The Panthers won at Toronto, 4-3 in overtime, on Feb. 3.
Zednik scored the game-winner when he one-timed a slapshot from the high slot off a feed from Cory Stillman.
Zednik’s carotid artery was slashed accidentally by the skate blade of teammate Olli Jokinen in Buffalo last year. Zednik underwent emergency surgery. He lost five pints of blood and spent a few days in a Buffalo hospital. A rose-coloured scar now runs down his neck, offering a constant reminder of the injury.
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 centre Gregory Campbell. “So everyone’s happy for Z.”
Horton began Florida’s comeback 26 at 8:13, only 26 seconds after Antropov’s goal made it 4-1.
“I think this year, it’s a different focus on our team,” Horton said. “When we’re down, we know we can come back. I think we just stuck with it and we got some bounces at the end and we won.”
Nick Boynton’s wrist shot was deflected wide of the net and bounced off the boards to the other side. Horton was there to pick up the loose puck and shoot it between Voskala’s legs.
Peltonen scored at 10:48 when he fought off defenceman Luke Schenn to put home a loose puck in the crease.
“We lost our poise,” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. “For most of the game we did a good job. … Halfway through the third period, you like what you see, but we just didn’t get the job done.”
Zednik tied the game at 14:31 when he put home a rebound from the front of the net. Zednik also had two good scoring chances in the first period but was kept off the scoreboard.
The Panthers are 2-16-4 in games they trail after two periods, with both victories coming against the Maple Leafs.
“I think it s a credit to our team that we can bounce back like that,” Campbell said. “I think Toronto’s probably tired of us doing that.”
Hagman, who began his NHL career with 3 1/2 seasons with the Panthers, gave Toronto a 1-0 lead at 10:31 of the first period. He put home a rebound from close range while being checked to the ice by defenceman Jay Bouwmeester.
Hagman scored his second goal on the power play at 18:29 of the second to give Toronto a 3-1 lead. After Jason Blake’s rebound from close range went off the post, Hagman batted home the loose puck in midair while standing to the side of the net.
Mayers broke a 1-1 tie at 16:50 of the second when his backhander slid slowly between the legs of Vokoun.
McLean scored Florida’s first goal at 3:13 of the second period.
“If that can’t sell tickets, I don’t know what can,” Florida coach Pete DeBoer said. “It was an exciting game and, you know, again a resiliency showed. It’s a character group of guys, there’s no panic on the bench when we get down.”
Notes: Florida stayed performed on Tuesday this season, improving to 7-0. … Antropov was playing in his 500th NHL game. … Toronto D Mike Van Ryn missed the game because of a lower-body injury sustained in Saturday night s 5-2 victory at Montreal.