Nikita Kashirsky stood next to the South Carolina Stingrays bench during Monday afternoon's practice at the Carolina Ice Palace with a pained expression on his face.
The hurt Kashirsky felt wasn't from the one-hour surgery he had on his broken jaw immediately following Saturday night's 3-2 overtime loss to Alaska in Game 5 of the Kelly Cup Finals.
No, it was the thought of missing Game 6 Thursday night in Anchorage. The Stingrays lead the best-of-7 series 3-2.
Kashirsky, who broke his jaw in two places after a hit by Aces captain Scott Burt, won't make the 4,517-mile journey to Alaska this morning.
"It kills me not to be able to be there for my teammates," Kashirsky managed to say Monday.
South Carolina coach Jared Bednar said Burt's hit during the third period was hard but clean. Replays of the incident show Burt lowering his shoulder into Kashirsky's jaw as the two were going for a loose puck along the boards. Kashirsky's jaw will be wired shut for the next eight weeks.
"You hate to see anyone get hurt on either team," Bednar said. "It was just one of those things. Injuries are a part of the game. I didn't think it was a dirty hit. It looks like Nikita just got surprised by it."
Kashirsky had been an integral part of the Stingrays' lineup since joining the team in March. His 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists) were tops among all rookies during the playoffs.
Stepping in for Kashirsky on the Stingrays' third line will be rookie Rob Ricci, who was picked up from Las Vegas after the regular season ended. Ricci signed with the Wranglers in late March after finishing his final year at Merrimack College.
"Rob brings a little bit of everything to the table," Bednar said. "He's a great faceoff guy. He's a very smart player and a good penalty-killer. He's got good offensive instincts. He's just a good all-around player."
Ricci has played in five games during the playoffs for the Stingrays and saw extended action during the Florida series when Travis Morin was sidelined.
"It's exciting to be back in the lineup, I just wish it was under different circumstances," Ricci said. "It's a tough break for Nikita, but it's an opportunity for me to play in a huge game."
If there was any hangover from Saturday night's overtime loss, it wasn't evident during Monday's 75-minute workout.
"We've got to remember that we're still up 3-2 in the series," said Stingrays defenseman Patrick Wellar. "Saturday night's loss was a tough break. We would have loved to have won it in front of our own fans, but it didn't work out that way."
In the playoffs, the Stingrays are 6-4 away from the North Charleston Coliseum. They have clinched each of their previous three playoff series on the road — at Charlotte, Florida and Cincinnati. The Stingrays beat Alaska, 4-2, in Game 1 of the Finals at Sullivan Arena.
"We've proven we can win in their barn," said Stingrays winger Spencer Carbery. "Now we've got to do it one more time."
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