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Kozlov is aching for pain-free return to ice - Miami Herald
Right wing Viktor Kozlov, who knows about playing hurt, hopes the team's
light schedule this week will help him recover from injuries to his jaw
Panthers right wing Viktor Kozlov has been playing with pain literally from head to toe.
While former Panthers coach Duane Sutter once publicly questioned the Russian's willingness to play through pain, present general manager and coach Rick Dudley does not.
''Kozzy is a character guy, and he'll play if he can play,'' Dudley said after practice Monday. ``Yeah, it's been painful for him, but he's been playing through it.
``I don't know what his rap was, but I'm not surprised at all he is playing.''
That's ditto for Kozlov's linemate.
''A few years ago he was playing with a bad groin and never complained,'' center Olli Jokinen said. ``Nobody in the media knew. But after playing with it hurting for months, he finally couldn't take it anymore. He had to have surgery and was out three months.''
Kozlov might be willing, but he hopes he won't have to play with pain much longer. His fractured jaw (caused by a flying puck Nov. 8 at St. Louis) is feeling better.
His right toe that he broke Nov. 22 at Washington was getting better until he was hit by a puck on the same spot Friday at Buffalo.
But with only two games in the next seven days, the injuries will have a chance to heal.
''That's a lot of days,'' he said. ``Big help.''
Kozlov has had more than his share of injuries since arriving from San Jose in a trade Nov. 14, 1997. Four days later, he separated his right shoulder and missed 16 games.
The next season he missed 17 games.
In the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons, he competed in only 51 and 50 games, respectively, and produced 64 points total.
Not surprisingly, Kozlov's two most productive seasons in his first eight in the NHL have come when he has been the most healthy. In 1999-2000, he played in a personal-best 80 games with 17 goals and 70 points. Last year, he played in 74 games with a career-best 22 goals and 56 points.
''Life is life,'' he said. ``You never know what will happen. Maybe you get hurt and maybe not get hurt. It's not in my hands. I don't want to get hurt, but I can't go through the season thinking about it.''
Kozlov, who has missed four games this season, is tied with Jokinen for most points on the team (16).
''He's not 100 percent yet, but he is still helping the team,'' Jokinen said.
At Montreal on Saturday, Kozlov took a pain shot before playing and scored the tying goal in the last 2:17 of regulation.
During practice Monday, Dudley moved Kristian Huselius to the top line with Kozlov and Jokinen and dropped struggling Marcus Nilson to the second line.
Jokinen said he was ''surprised'' at the change and hopes Nilson will return to the first line.
''I think the chemistry was there last year, and there's no reason it's not going to be there this year,'' Jokinen said.
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