The game ended with both teams remaining on the ice, silently surrounding a fallen player.
The Detroit Red Wings had just beaten the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in overtime Monday, on Andreas Athanasiou’s goal, but it was an injury to Canes goalie Eddie Lack on the play that had everyone frozen in place for several minutes after the game, somber, hoping for the best.
The collision was a hard one. As Athanasiou drove the net with the puck, the Canes’ Victor Rask gave him a push from behind, Athanasiou’s right side hitting Lack in the head, causing it to snap back.
In a flash, Athanasiou had scored at 1:59 of overtime, and Lack was down, motionless. The Wings’ celebration was brief.
Canes trainer Pete Friesen and then other medical personnel came on the ice to attend to Lack. They huddled around him for more than 10 minutes as the Hurricanes and Wings players did the same in a very quiet PNC Arena.
Lack, who has missed a big chunk of the season with concussions, was slowly lifted onto a stretcher and taken to UNC Rex Hospital for tests. Lack later tweeted that “everything looks alright and I’ll be able to go home tonight. Thanks for thinking of me.”
“I had no idea I hit him,” Athanasiou said. “I tried driving the net and I felt (Rask’s) stick on my back. He cross-checked me pretty hard. Even after, I had no idea I came in contact with (Lack).
“I never like to see someone go down like that and on a stretcher. I hope he’s OK, and he gets back.”
The players tapped their sticks on the ice and fans chanted “Let’s go, Eddie” as Lack was carried off the ice. Lack gave a thumbs-up, perhaps easing the anxiety level for so many.
Wings coach Jeff Blashill said a couple of his players told him Lack was moving soon after the play, adding, “So then you’re a little more relaxed.”
The play was reviewed, and it was ruled the puck crossed the goal line before the collision, thus no goaltender interference. It was a sudden, almost surreal end to what had been a hard-fought hockey game – the one rescheduled after the Dec. 19 game was postponed because of poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.
Defenseman Justin Faulk twice scored for the Canes, his second goal tying the score 3-3 with 51.1 seconds left in regulation after the Canes pulled Lack for a sixth attacker.
Lack suffered a concussion in practice in November, banging his head against the boards after a fall. He returned in December, then was injured and sidelined again after the Christmas break, missing a total of 26 games because of the concussions before being activated from injured reserve on Jan. 26.
After a poor outing March 1 against Tampa Bay, Lack was publicly criticized by Peters but responded with his best play of the season. He won five of six starts, beating Montreal and New Jersey last week as the Canes finished off a 3-0-1 road trip to pull within five points of the Boston Bruins and the second wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Carolina (33-27-14), which faces the Red Wings again Tuesday at PNC Arena, picked up another point on the Bruins. But the players were in no mood to talk about playoff chances.
“It’s hard to think about the game,” Canes center Jordan Staal said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Eddie. He’s had a tough time with injuries and all the stuff that has gone on for him. To see him play as well as he has of late and given us a chance to make a push here, it’s been a lot of fun. Hopefully he recovers from this quick.”
Before the injury, Lack and Wings goalie Petr Mrazek both played well, making timely saves.
Canes winger Jeff Skinner scored his 31st of the season in the first period, extending his goal streak to six straight games. Faulk’s first goal also seemed important at the time, coming with 57.5 seconds left in the second period to tie the score 2-2.
Those goals offset a pair of breakaway scores in the second by the Wings’ Anthony Mantha, who twice took advantage of poor puck management by the Canes.
Tomas Tatar’s power-play score at 8:30 of the third pushed the Wings in front 3-2, but Faulk answered in the final minute.
“I’m not really thinking about it,” Faulk said. “I’m just worried about Eddie. I think everybody in this room is.”