UNIONDALE – Patrick Kaleta still had most of his equipment on when paramedics loaded him into an ambulance. While prone on a stretcher with his neck stabilized, he feared the worst.
“You get thoughts cruising through your mind there, hoping everything turns out all right, wondering if it’s my last game that I ever played, things like that,” Kaleta said Saturday. “Luckily, everything’s good and I’m able to come back and play.”
The right winger played Saturday night against the New York Islanders, his first appearance in the Buffalo Sabres’ lineup since suffering a neck injury Jan. 29. He was on the ice for 14 minutes, 11 seconds.
He has a history of head and neck ailments, and the latest one sent a chill through him.
“You fight through it, and the best part is coming back and being with your teammates,” Kaleta said in Nassau Coliseum.
He missed five games after getting boarded by Toronto’s Mike Brown. Kaleta turned his back on the approaching forward along the boards and got crunched.
Though he has turned before in attempts to draw penalties, he said it wasn’t the case that time in First Niagara Center.
“That particular instance, I wasn’t planning on doing that because I didn’t see him coming,” Kaleta said.
“Obviously, you can say you’d do something different because the way the play ended up.
“But things happen for a reason, and I just roll with it.”
Coach Lindy Ruff said he had multiple talks with Kaleta and made it clear the forward should not turn his back on players again.
“He can’t put himself in that position,” Ruff said. “I still think there’s a little bit of an onus on the player that’s attacking, but there’s an onus on the player that’s going to receive that hit, too, especially in Patty’s case, not to put your head in that position.
“Drawing penalties in that fashion isn’t what we want. Drawing a penalty and injuring yourself for a couple weeks doesn’t make any sense.”
Andrej Sekera rejoined the Sabres’ defense corps for the 3-2 victory over the Islanders after missing three games with a severe bone bruise on his foot. He got pegged by a slap shot during the opening minute in Montreal on Feb. 2.
“We’ve seen lots of these where you can’t put your skate on,” Ruff said.
“Once you get away from that hot point, that real tender point where your skate’s hitting that area, you can get through it.”
Sekera replaced struggling Tyler Myers on the blue line. Myers joined forwards Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick in the press box as healthy scratches.
Two former Sabres didn’t get a chance to play their old team. The Islanders scratched forward Eric Boulton and defenseman Joe Finley.
Boulton has played against Buffalo 19 times since leaving prior to the 2005-06 season, but Finley missed his first opportunity. New York claimed him on waivers right before the season started.
“You’re a competitor and you want to be able to get out there and compete,” Finley said, “but I’m a team-first guy and whatever’s best for the team I’m going to trust in the coaches and just continue to work hard and wait for an opportunity.”
The 6-foot-8 defenseman has played five of the Isles’ 11 games with one assist, one fight and a minus-2 rating.
“I’d say it’s been more than OK,” he said. “It’s easy to feel part of what we’re doing here, and obviously some of the success that we’ve had it’s awesome to be part of that.”
The trip to the Coliseum was the Sabres’ only scheduled appearance on Long Island this season. They don’t have many visits left. The Islanders are moving to Brooklyn and Barclays Center after the 2014-15 season.
“These are the buildings that some of these franchises were built off of,” Ruff said. “It’s not different than the Aud. Players would come in and go, ‘Thank God this place is gone.’ We played there, we loved it. It was a great place to play.
“There’s a lot of great memories for a lot of great Islander players. When this building isn’t being used anymore, they’re going to look back and say, ‘We won four championships and it was in this building.’ It’s hard to say anything bad about anybody’s building.”