Steve Kozari [600x600]
Steve Kozari [600x600] (Credit: Icon Sportswire)

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Longtime NHL referee Steve Kozari, who left the ice on a stretcher earlier this month after colliding with Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Haydn Fleury during a Pittsburgh Penguins' victory, returned to the ice Sunday, working his 137th career Stanley Cup playoff game.

Kozari, who missed the rest of the regular season after the collision, worked with fellow referee Kyle Rehman, as well as linesmen Michel Cormier and Bevan Mills during the Vancouver Canucks' 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series.

The collision with Fleury took place on April 6, at center ice with 13:49 remaining in the game at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. Fleury stood back up and skated off the ice and over to the Lightning locker room, while Kozari lay motionless while the training staffs of both teams tended to him. Fleury did not return to the game, and was not in the lineup on Sunday, when the Lightning opened their postseason run with a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers.

A member of the NHL Officials Association since 2003, Kozari, 50, "was transported to UPMC Mercy Hospital for precautionary reasons," according to a statement released by the NHL after the game. He was "conscious and alert," the statement added, including that he had "use of all of his extremities" and was "expected to make a full recovery."

On "Hockey Night in Canada" on CBC later that night, it was reported that Kozari was scheduled to work the game between the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres the following day, but that he was replaced.

"I caught it out of the corner of my eye. Tampa's defenseman was coming off the bench -- I think both of them were looking at the puck, as was I -- so I caught it out of the corner of my eye," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said at the time. "But at the last second, they collided and I believe they hit helmet to helmet, so it was really a scary collision. I don't think Steve had the ability to break his fall when he fell to the ice. We certainly hope he's going to be OK. That was a scary moment in the game."

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper concurred.

"That was tough to watch," he said in his postgame media availability in Pittsburgh. "But [Fleury], I went into the locker room during that pause. Naturally, he was a little shook up. It was just one of those plays that was kind of a freak accident. But hopefully, both guys will be OK."

Postseason play is not new to Kozari, who has skated in the Stanley Cup Final four times. On Sunday, in the first home playoff game in Vancouver since 2015, he and his crew worked a rather clean game, calling 12 minutes in penalties, including eight on the Canucks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.