But after the injury, the Hawks quickly lost their wind, and the Rangers pulled away for a 6-2 victory.
“Personally, I was pretty shaken; I’m not going to lie to you,” an anxious Jonathan Toews said after the game. “We were trying to find that emotion to respond the right way, to answer that. We could’ve had a better response as a team. The guys felt that one a little bit. Obviously, we wanted to win that for Jujhar.”
Khaira was injured by Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba with 13:50 left in the second period. He had just received a pass from Seth Jones and had his head down, trying to gather the puck, when Trouba stepped up and delivered a crushing high hit.
Khaira, who’s in his first year with the Hawks, had suffered several head injuries earlier in his career with the Oilers. He fell immediately backward onto the ice and remained motionless until he was stretchered off with his face bleeding six minutes later.
No penalty was assessed, although Riley Stillman later fought Trouba. The Hawks said it was difficult to tell where the principal point of contact was on replay.
Khaira was taken via ambulance to Northwestern Hospital for further testing and evaluation, and, by 10:50 p.m., the Hawks received good news. But further tests still needed to be done overnight.
“He’s up; he’s talking; he’s very responsive,” interim coach Derek King said.
Kirby Dach had snapped a 17-game goalless drought to put the Hawks ahead 2-1 in the first period — the final tally in a furious start with three goals in the opening eight minutes — but the game turned dramatically after the long second-period pause.
Chris Kreider tipped in a power-play goal to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead with 15:01 left, and the Hawks didn’t appear to have the energy to try to claw back. Artemi Panarin continued to terrorize his former team with a four-point night, giving him 12 points in seven games against the Hawks.
“We had half the guys playing, the other half were kind of sleepy, and we were still [tied for a while] with one of the top teams in the NHL, so that’s a positive,” King said. “But after that [Rangers] power play, it took the wind out of our sails. The way we were going, we just didn’t have that extra jam to have a pushback.”
Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves but missed on his first opportunity to become the third NHL goalie with 500 career victories.
The morning skate included two good-to-see faces: MacKenzie Entwistle and Connor Murphy.
Although Murphy — who technically remains in concussion protocol — didn’t play against the Rangers, King is hopeful he’ll play against the Canadiens and/or Maple Leafs on the upcoming trip.
“[Concussions are] something you don’t mess around with, so we have to follow the protocols and make sure he’s 100% before he gets back in game situations,” King said.
For Entwistle, the skate was his first appearance since he was ruled out for four to six weeks on Nov. 9 with a left ankle injury. The rookie forward’s return isn’t imminent, but he’s clearly making progress.
“Him being on the ice is a positive for us,” King said. “[We’ll] get him back up and running, and we’ll see where he’s at when he’s cleared to go.”