SUNRISE, Florida – The emotional rollercoaster took another turn Thursday night.
Aleksander Barkov broke a 2-2 tie with under four minutes to play in the third period as Florida Panthers defeated the Winnipeg Jets 4-2 at BB&T Center.
Barkov was the recipient of a beautiful feed from Jonathan Huberdeau. Barkov made no mistake, rifling a shot past Hutchinson for the eventual GWG.
Nick Bjugstad added an empty-netter a few minutes later.
Mark Scheifele and Drew Stafford scored for the Jets, while Michael Hutchinson made 16 saves in a losing effort.
“The shot came through a screen,” Hutchinson said of the winning goal. “I picked it up as soon as it got past (Stuart). It was a good shot, off the post and in, but I was a little late picking it up.
"They didn’t throw too many easy saves at me. It seemed like whenever they shot, they were either shooting for a deflection or it was a good shot that turned into a scoring chance. It was one of those games where you really have to stay focused because you’re not seeing the puck as much."
With the loss, the Jets fall to 33-23-12.
“‘Frustrating’ is the word,” Stafford said. “Now’s the time when we need every point possible, so we need to figure out a way to turn this thing around. We’ll take what we can from this one and get ready for another tough challenge in Tampa.”
Each team recorded 20 shots on goal.
“We need to show a little more desperation, a little more urgency,” Stafford said.
Stretching out between the hash marks, Derek MacKenzie opened the scoring with a beautiful goal at 16:28. Hutchinson got a piece of the Superman-like diving effort, but not enough as it dribbled across the line, giving the Panthers a 1-0 lead on MacKenzie’s fifth of the year. Dave Bolland, who choreographed it all with an outstanding diagonal feed featuring a backhand spin-o-rama, was credited with the primary assist.
Shots on goal favoured the Cats 8-6 after one period of play.
The Panthers had a glorious opportunity to go up by two early in the second period when Jussi Jokinen was sprung on a partial break, shorthanded. Deking to the forehand, Jokinen pinned a shot off the iron, keeping it a 1-0 game as Tyler Myers crashed heavily into the end boards behind him.
Myers went off under his own power but left the game soon after and did not return with an upper-body injury. There was no update on his condition after the game.
Scheifele manufactured the tying goal with 10:46 to play in the second period. Speeding in and plotting the attack at the top of the far circle, No. 55 rifled a shot top shelf on Dan Ellis, giving the Jets life in an otherwise tame middle frame.
On and on, the pace quickened.
With Mark Stuart off serving a penalty for cross-checking, the Panthers took a 2-1 lead. In an effort to prevent the pinball effect in tight, Adam Pardy – locked in a battle with Brad Boyes – inadvertently swatted the puck into his own net at 17:07.
But the Jets weren’t going quietly – and it was another of the fortuitous variety that brought the teams back on level ground. On a bit of a broken play down low, Stafford deposited a bouncing puck past Ellis, netting his fourth as a Jet at 6:13.
“You’d always like more (scoring chances), wouldn’t you?” Maurice said. “But we’re a little challenged with what we’re going to be able to generate here. We’ve got to keep our games tight. … We’re also at the time of year where there are tight games. We didn’t have a whole lot going offensively and there were some strange plays going on around the net.
“Tough one at the end.”
The late goals by Barkov and Bjugstad sealed the 4-2 win for the Cats.
“They were fast and physical, but they were really good in the neutral zone and we lost our speed a little bit toward the end,” Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba said.
“I don’t think we were at our best tonight and this time of year, you’ve got to bring your best every night.”
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com