TORONTO - After watching Paul Ranger's head hit the glass, Toronto Maple Leafs players witnessed their teammate getting wheeled off the ice at Air Canada Centre on a stretcher.
Before finding out that the veteran defenceman was "stable, conscious and alert" at a local hospital, the Leafs were left helpless to worry at the first intermission.
"It's not a good feeling," winger Joffrey Lupul said. "He obviously didn't look great when he was leaving the ice. So you're trying to clear your head and focus on the next period. But you can't lie—obviously part of you is wondering what's going on with him."
Ranger suffered the injury with 4.1 seconds left in the first period when he was boarded by Tampa Bay Lightning forward Alex Killorn. It looked like the 29-year-old turned at the last second before Killorn finished his check, and then Ranger's head made a violent collision with the glass and he went down to the ice.
From Leafs goalie James Reimer to Lightning coach Jon Cooper, there seemed to a consensus that Killorn was not trying to injure Ranger on the play.
"It's kind of a scary moment, one of those plays where I commit to hit someone without knowing if they are going to turn, so it's just an unfortunate play," said Killorn, who added that he left Ranger a voice-mail message. "He kind of, as I'm going in to hit him, makes a quick turn play and I'm already committed at that point. I'm trying to think of what else I could have done, in my head you look back to prevent that, but it's just a tough, quick-bang play."
Killorn was given a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct that the Leafs were not able to score on. It was expected that the NHL's department of player safety would take a look at the play, though that is standard procedure, especially when that kind of punishment is handed out on the ice.
Any further discipline for Killorn was certainly not a prevalent post-game topic after the Lightning's 5-3 victory over the Leafs. Instead, there was concern over Ranger's condition.
Ranger was down on the ice for roughly seven minutes as medical personnel brought out a stretcher and officials decided to play the final few seconds of the first period at the start of the second. Leafs players huddled around close to end boards where he went down, while Lightning players Ryan Malone, Teddy Purcell, Mike Kostka and Nate Thompson remained on the ice and watched from afar.
"When that stretcher comes out that's, I think, a whole 'nother level when you realize the severity of it," Leafs winger Mason Raymond said. "Obviously we're just hoping the best for him right now."
Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, who had a hat trick in his seventh game back after missing four months with a broken leg, expressed empathy but saw no malicious intent on Killorn's part.
"Those are the plays we are trying to get rid of—it's such a bang-bang play, obviously Killer didn't mean to do it," Stamkos said.
Toronto defenceman Tim Gleason, who was on the ice with Ranger when the incident occurred, said a similar thing happened to him during the pre-season when he suffered a concussion.
"It probably doesn't look like much, but all it takes is a little bit," Gleason said. "It's a fast game, so it looked like he was going kind of face toward the glass or body toward the glass, I guess you could say. It just took a little extra nudge."
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle got a look at a replay during the first intermission but didn't have a chance to study it. At first glance, he said it looked like a "textbook" hit from behind.
Reimer called it "just one of those tough plays."
"I don't think he meant to dummy Range from behind," he said. "Just one of those quick plays in hockey where the puck was there, he kind of turned around and he kind of came with speed. I don't think anyone tries to injure another person or hurt someone like that. It's too bad."
Ranger, who was dressed for the 48th game this season, has four goals and eight assists. The 29-year-old made his return to the NHL this season after leaving his last team, the Lightning, abruptly early in the 2009-10 season.
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