Koivu out indefinitely with eye injury

MONTREAL -- Montreal's Saku Koivu will miss at least one game because of an eye injury, and the Canadiens are preparing for the possibility that their captain could be out for longer.

Four years after winning his battle with cancer, Koivu finds himself anxiously waiting to learn what damage was done to his left eye as the result of being accidentally hit with a stick during the second period of Montreal's 2-1 overtime loss to Carolina.

"He was in good spirits when I spoke to him this morning," said Canadiens defenseman Craig Rivet, a close friend who was at Koivu's side during the Finnish center's bout with abdominal cancer throughout the 2001-02 season. "You could see that there was a little bit of panic when he was coming off the ice. He knew that it was a serious injury and hopefully things will work out."

Montreal coach and general manager Bob Gainey said Thursday that Koivu would be out of the lineup indefinitely and that the full extent of the injury won't be known until more tests are completed in two or three days when the swelling subsides.

The Canadiens didn't say who will take Koivu's spot in the lineup for Game 4 in Montreal on Friday. Montreal leads 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. Carolina has never come back to win a playoff series after losing the first two games.

"There's nothing we can do about it," Canadiens defenseman Sheldon Souray said. "It's a loss for sure and it's an important piece of the puzzle but it shouldn't be a distraction. He's getting the best care that he can right now and we have our fingers crossed that he's going to be all right."

The Canadiens' top center, Koivu had two assists in Montreal's two series-opening wins in Carolina.

"If he does come back, that's great, but we're going to go on with the playoffs thinking that he's not going to be there," Canadiens defenseman Mathieu Dandenault said. "We'll see how it goes, as long as he makes a full recovery."

Koivu, who wears a visor, was bleeding from a cut in the area of his left eye as he skated off the ice Wednesday after he was clipped by Hurricanes right winger Justin Williams' stick while cutting past Carolina's net early in the second period.

"I tried to cover Saku in front of the net, he came to the net and I obviously missed his stick and clipped him under the eye," said Williams, who said after Thursday's practice that he had left phone messages for Koivu but had not yet spoken to him. "There was no penalty on the play but I kept looking for him at the start of each period to see if he was back on the bench, but that wasn't so."

Hurricanes right winger Mark Recchi, also a close friend of Koivu's from their days as teammates in Montreal, gave Williams Koivu's phone number.

"I think everybody knows it was an accident and there was no ill-intent on Justin's part," Recchi said. "It was an unfortunate situation and Justin does feel very bad. We all just pray that Saku's eye is going to be OK and that he comes through this with flying colors as he has with all his other health things."

The Canadiens lost the game on Eric Staal's power-play goal in overtime after killing defenseman Mike Komisarek's high-sticking double-minor during the last 4:34 of regulation.

"I think in this situation it's pretty easy to blame the referees but we don't want to play that game," Souray said. "I mean, it's pretty obvious what happened to Sak -- we've all seen it over and over -- so it's unfortunate because we lose our best player and our captain, and we lost the game on a power play."

Koivu, who has spent his entire 10-year NHL career with Montreal, signed a $14.25 million, three-year contract extension on Feb. 11. He led the Canadiens with 45 assists and finished second on the team with 62 points, three behind Alexei Kovalev.

Gainey said right winger Richard Zednik would see more power-play time as a result of Koivu's absence.

"It'll affect their team, obviously the captain's gone, but the performances they put on in Game 1 and Game 2 and even last night, that's not a one-man team," Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward said. "That's four lines that come and attack. Our biggest mistake as a team right here would be to discount anything. That team's built as a community and they're a unified group. [Koivu] may be an inspirational leader for the history he has with the Montreal Canadiens but I'm sure they'll go forward."