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Tough Night for Panthers, Ballard and Vokoun ... Colin Campbell says No Suspension ... Andy vs. Clem?

Vokoun First off, Tomas Vokoun appears to be fine. He had to have his left ear stitched up and according to GM Randy Sexton, the hospital was going to have him transported to the airport where he was to meet the team and fly home.

No concussion, no inner ear injury apparently.

So that is terrific news.

Here's what happened tonight.

THRASHERS 4, PANTHERS 3

ATLANTA – Not everything went wrong for the Panthers on Monday night, it only seemed that way. For Keith Ballard things couldn’t have gone worse.

Ballard not only knocked goalie Tomas Vokoun out of the game by inadvertently smashing him in the head with his stick in the first period, but the winning goal deflected off his stick with 5.5 seconds left as the Thrashers pulled out a 4-3 victory at Philips Arena.


Vokoun had to be taken to a local hospital where it was feared he had suffered a concussion after the hit by Ballard.


General manager Randy Sexton said after the game that Vokoun only suffered a lacerated left ear that needed stitches. Vokoun was expected to be transported from St. Joseph’s Hospital on the north side of town to the airport to meet the team for their charter flight home to Fort Lauderdale. It’s not known how long Vokoun will be out.


Ballard2 Ballard, usually affable with the media and one of the most popular players in the locker room, refused comment as he headed to the team bus.


“There’s not a guy who feels worse than he does,’’ said fellow defenseman Bryan Allen. “He means well, he was doing the right thing. He was showing he cares. It was an unfortunate accident and I feel bad for him. I know he feels 100 times worse than anyone else.’’


The play happened when Vokoun gave up a goal to Ilya Kovalchuk on a rush. Kovalchuk’s initial shot was stopped, but Vokoun froze as he sat kneeled on the ice and the Atlanta star scooped up the still puck and popped it through.


Ballard, racing back, saw Kovalchuk score, pulled back with his stick and swung it at the goal cage. Ballard’s hard baseball-type swing instead hit Vokoun in the head. Ballard didn’t seem to notice that he hit the goalie and not the top crossbar as he reared back and swung again, this time hitting the side of the cage away from Vokoun.


The Florida goalie lay prone on the ice for about five minutes after paramedics and team medical staff summoned by Rostislav Olesz attended to him. Vokoun was taken to the hospital and the team was updated on his status.


Ballard needed to be talked to by his teammates as he was very upset about his accidental hit. Allen said he and captain Bryan McCabe spoke to him. Sexton and coach Pete DeBoer said they spoke to him as well.


“It’s a scary thing,’’ said center Stephen Weiss. “It’s obviously an accident and it’s tough to come back and focus I would assume. It was similar to the [Olli Jokinen/Richard Zednik] thing. I’ve never been in that position, but I would think [Ballard’s] mind was elsewhere the rest of that game.’’


Clem Scott Clemmensen entered trailing 2-1 and the Thrashers went hard at him.  Chris Thorburn scored early in the second for a 3-2 Atlanta lead, but the Panthers tied it on Michael Frolik’s goal late in the second.


Florida had a bunch of chances to grab the lead late as Weiss and Nathan Horton both missed opportunities. Weiss couldn’t score with Johan Hedberg out of position with 1:12 left, and Horton failed to grab a loose puck in front off a rebound with 21 seconds remaining.


After Horton’s play, the Thrashers moved into the Florida zone and Maxim Afinogenov fired a shot toward the net. Ballard, sliding into position, moved his stick to block the shot but instead deflected it past his goalie.


The loss was Florida’s fifth straight and third consecutive defeat in regulation.


“It’s a tough loss, a hard one to swallow,’’ said DeBoer. “Managing the puck at critical times has been an issue for us through the streak. The same thing bit us tonight.’’

-- Colin Campbell, Gregory's dad and NHL discipline czar, says that Ballard will not be suspended for taking a whack at his own goalie. He tells Ken Campbell of The Hockey News that the highlights of that hit -- and everything else that goes with it -- is punishment enough.

Check out Ken Campbell's THN blog -- it's really good -- here.

“It will be on every sports highlight show for the next week,” Colin Campbell said. “If that’s not enough of a punishment…”

Ken Campbell also talked to Buffalo's Ryan Miller about Ballard's hit:

“I don’t know about a suspension,” Miller said, “but you’d like to think the guys on your team, when they show anger, they’re going to be cognizant of what’s around them. That’s just being angry and being blind to what’s around you. That’s no way to handle your emotions on the ice. I don’t think a suspension is in order. The team can handle it internally. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that.”

-- Sexton wouldn't say if Alexander Salak was going to be needed to come south to backup Scott Clemmensen, but that's something that could be done tomorrow. The Americans are on a Canadian roadtrip, so it would be a longer flight than it they were in Rochester.

Chris Beckford-Tseu could have been an emergency backup and driven over from Estero, but the Everglades goalie was recently recalled to Rochester as well.

-- So, it looks like Wednesday will be a battle between Craig Anderson and Clemmensen.

Anderson, as you all know, was Florida's backup goalie parts of the past three seasons and played very well as Vokoun’s backup the past two seasons.

Andy Anderson left the Panthers on July 1 as Colorado offered him a chance to be a starter; with Vokoun being the Panthers highest paid player, that opportunity wasn’t here. He wanted to stay in Florida, but wanted to start. He signed a two-year deal with the Avs on July 1. A few hours later, the panthers signed Clemmensen – who filled in for the injured Martin Brodeur last season – to a three-year deal to replace Anderson.

Anderson has played well for the Avs, went 10-2-2 in October as Panthers struggled that month, winning just two of first 10. Anderson shut out Tampa Bay 3-0 on Monday, his first shutout of November snapping a three-game personal losing streak. Anderson went 4-5-3 in November.

Anderson was 29-15-11 in three seasons with Panthers, 28-14-10 past two years. When Panthers traded for Vokoun in June 2007, Panthers offered him a two-year deal to be the backup.

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