The trail of blood on the ice that snaked all the way from the goal line in the Sabres' zone to the Panthers' bench was the evidence left Sunday night of one of the most gruesome scenes in NHL history.
With 9:56 left in Sunday's 5-3 loss to the Sabres at HSBC Arena, Panthers forward Richard Zednik's neck was sliced by teammate Olli Jokinen's right skate. Zednik was in stable condition and resting comfortably after undergoing surgery late Sunday at Buffalo General Hospital, team officials said.
Jokinen, who had his back to Zednik while tangled with Sabres forward Clarke MacArthur, caught Zednik as he kicked up his leg while falling. Zednik skated to the bench, covering the gash with his hand.
There, Panthers teammates helped him off the ice. Sabres doctors William Hartrich and Les Bisson helped stop the bleeding, and Zednik was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
Minutes after Zednik left the ice, an arena announcement was made that he was in stable condition. The 18,690 fans stood and applauded while Panthers players breathed a sigh of relief.
"The game didn't seem important and the score. Nothing really mattered other than finally finding out he's at least in stable condition," said defenseman Steve Montador. "You don't want to think about the worst, but it's hard not to have a flash thought of what could actually happen to the guy. It hit me and stopped time for a second."
Assistant General Manager Randy Sexton and athletic trainer Dave Zenobi stayed with Zednik in the hospital while the rest of the team flew home.
The organization also flew Zednik's wife, Jessica, to Buffalo on a private charter plane Sunday night — Buffalo's airport was shut down for commercial flights because of weather conditions.
Panthers players and coach Jacques Martin were visibly shaken after the game.
"Blood was flying out of his throat. I was right there," Jokinen said. "At first I didn't know it was my skate because I fell down. Then I saw the replay. I've never seen anything like it."
Of his skate being the one that sliced Zednik's neck, Jokinen said, "It makes me feel sick. … It was terrifying."
"Worst thing I've ever seen in hockey," center Stephen Weiss said. "The worst was going through my mind, that somebody better get him help or else…I don't even want to say it. Just his face coming off [the ice] was something you don't want to see."
"You just saw blood squirting out," winger David Booth said. "That was really scary."
Defenseman Jassen Cullimore was one of the first players to help Zednik off the ice as he approached the bench.
"Basically, his life was in jeopardy," Cullimore said.
"He just looked pale," Montador said. "He was standing and to a degree he was coherent but … he seemed to be staring at nothing. He's a pretty brave guy just to realize what's going on, grab his neck and get off the ice."
The incident was eerily similar to another one involving the Sabres in 1989. During a Sabres home game against the St. Louis Blues, Sabres goalie Clint Malarchuk, who in later years would become the Panthers' goalie coach, had his neck slashed by a skate.
Sunday, Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun, who had the night off with Craig Anderson making the start, said he has flashbacks to the Red Wings' Jiri Fischer collapsing with a heart condition during Nashville's game against Detroit while Vokoun was with the Predators.
"I walked in here and saw him when he was on that stretcher," Vokoun said of Zednik. "This is so dangerous. It's a possibility in hockey. It rarely ever happens, but when it happens, it could be fatal."
Jokinen said that perhaps the game shouldn't have resumed after the incident involving Zednik.
"We were saying, 'Let's win the game for him,'" Jokinen said, "but I can honestly say my mind wasn't on the game the last nine minutes."
Steve Gorten can be reached at email@example.com