SUNRISE, Florida – Jaromir Jagr scored career goals No. 741 and 742, passing Brett Hull for third all time in NHL history, leading the Florida Panthers to a 3-1 win over the Jets at BB&T Center.
A 1-1 game entering the third, Reilly Smith put the Cats in front with a power-play goal early, while Jagr sealed it with 6:23 to play.
“If you give a good player a little bit of room, he’s going to make you pay. If you great player too much room, he’s going to hurt you bad,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said of the future Hall of Famer.
“He’s been doing that every night that I’ve watched him all year. … His ability to control the play and take nothing and just use his size, his ability to change directions and pick up speed on the turn… He’s a spectacular player.”
With the loss, the Jets finish up their four-game road trip with a 1-2-1 record for three of a possible eight points. They’re back in action on Tuesday against the Dallas Stars before heading back out on the road for a two-game set, beginning Thursday in against the very same Stars.
Nikolaj Ehlers got the Jets on the board first with a power-play goal late in the opening frame. Just 13 seconds into a Garrett Wilson infraction, Ehlers, creating havoc along with Andrew Ladd in front, tipped home a Dustin Byfuglien point shot, giving him 14 on the year.
Michael Hutchinson was the busier of the two netminders early on, as the Jets were outshot 12-9 after one period of play. His best came just 24 seconds in as Nick Bjugstad got behind the defence and broke in alone, but his backhand try was denied.
The Panthers levelled the score at 4:53 as Jagr got the first of two on the night. Dmitry Kulikov recorded the assist, as he delivered a beautiful pass to the bottom of the circle, where No. 68 showed that soft touch of his, deflecting the puck high over Hutchinson’s glove hand.
Wayne Gretzky's 894 career goals are most ever collected, with second-place Gordie Howe sitting 93 back with 801.
“He definitely showed why he’s the best in the game tonight,” Hutchinson said. “He was really protecting the puck and he has a quick shot. I thought for the most part all night we did a good job containing him as much as we could, but he’s opportunistic.”
The Jets went right back to work, but Roberto Luongo stole the show, blocking at least five clear looks, and three – count ‘em – three breakaways within minutes of each other. Blake Wheeler, Chris Thorburn and Mathieu Perreault were all stopped, with all three trying a different move on the veteran ‘tender.
“We had the opportunities to put the puck in the net,” Andrew Ladd said. “In tight games like that you’ve got to find a way to do it.”
At the other end, Hutchinson was equally good, making a number of big stops in the final few minutes of the second, including one where he was bowled over in the blue paint.
Shots on goal were 31 apiece at the final buzzer.
“It was encouraging when we’re getting scoring chances [like we did],” Hutchinson said. “If we’re getting those kind of chances in most games we’re going to score a couple. Unfortunately we weren’t able to tonight. It’s a bright spot. If we’re not getting them, it’s a bigger concern.”
The Panthers didn’t look back after taking the lead just 3:58 into the final frame. With the slight, albeit ambitious Kyle Rau parked in front, Smith fired a shot from the far wall, beating the goalie five-hole for the Cats’ first lead of the night.
It was all they would need.
LATE HITS: Bryan Little did not play due to the injury he suffered Thursday after being hit in the head by Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Anton Stralman. Little is day-to-day. … Mathieu Perreault was promoted to the top line as a result, recording one assist, dishing out four hits and playing more than 20 minutes alongside Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers. With a spot open at centre, Andrew Copp drew back into the lineup after sitting out at Tampa.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com