SUNRISE, Fla. -- Even Disney could not have come up with an ending like this one.
One Feb. 10, 2008, Richard Zednik did not know if he'd live to see the next day. Exactly one year later, he's celebrating an unprecedented comeback 5-4 victory by the Florida Panthers over the Toronto Maple Leafs, one made possible with his tying and game-winning goals.
Hockey fans always talk about players getting a goal on their birthday. Apparently it is two for a re-birthday.
"It's a great story," Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. "From what he came back from, I would think if you were in that position yourself, it would be easy to put your feet up, retire and never play again. He's made more than enough money to do that. I thought he showed a lot of character even coming back this year. He's starting to hit his stride, get more comfortable out there."
Zednik, to that point, hadn't been much of a factor. Perhaps distracted by all the talk surrounding last year's horrific incident in which he took a skate to the throat, the winger had a penalty and just one shot through two periods.
With 6:29 left in the game, Zednik parked himself in front of Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala and re-directed a pass into the net to tie the game and force overtime. Just 68 seconds into the extra period, veteran Cory Stillman found Zednik breaking to the slot. He fed the winger, whose one-timer sealed the win.
Until Tuesday, the Panthers, in their 16-year history, never overcame a three-goal deficit and went on to win.
The victory only gives Florida a one-point lead over Carolina for eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. It isn't much breathing room, especially since the eight spot has shifted between the Panthers, Hurricanes and Penguins several times over the past few weeks.
It's quite the mirror image of last year, though, when the Panthers, trying to recover from the trauma of Zednik's injury, dropped seven of its next nine games and fell out of the playoff race.
There's a lot to be said for Zednik's play as of late and how it has rubbed off on the Panthers. Since being benched on Dec. 31, the winger has 11 points, including a pair of highlight reel goals. In that same stretch, Florida is 10-3-3.
Zednik's teammates have been buzzing, talking about his acrobatic feats. Now they're reveling in the effort that not only finishes off the franchise's greatest comeback.
There really could not be a more perfect end to a personal chapter in Zednik's life.