WINNIPEG – Reilly Smith and Jaromir Jagr scored goals less than two minutes apart early in the third period, propelling the Atlantic Division-leading Florida Panthers to a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday at MTS Centre.
The Panthers tied things up at the tail end of a 5-on-3 early in the third before the 44-year-old put the Panthers in front at the three-and-a-half minute mark, cutting to the middle and firing a shot off the stick of a defender, beating Ondrej Pavelec on the glove side.
With the goal, Jagr is now only two points away from tying Gordie Howe for third place in all-time NHL scoring.
The Jets were the better team for much of the night, but those back-to-back penalties on fresh ice in the final frame proved costly.
“We didn’t play the third period the way we played the first two,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We were much better through two periods defensively, and that was the foundation of what we had going. All of a sudden we looked fast for the first time in quite some time. Part of that is that we came back off what seemed like a month on the road, so we had a little extra jump … But we certainly weren’t sitting on the lead. We came out and took a penalty on a penalty kill, and it was a different game from that point on.”
Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Copp scored for the Jets – their only two tallies on 32 shots on Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo.
“We’re putting pucks to the net, but we’ve got to drive the net and get bodies there, too. It’s the only way you can score,” Byfuglien said, adding about the third-period letdown, “It’s definitely a mentality thing.
“We’ve got to stay focused for a full 60. We can’t take any shifts off. It’s the NHL, you’ve got be here to work, ready to win.”
The Cats opened the scoring at 13:48 of the first period as Vincent Trochek fed a beautiful pass over to Reilly Smith, who, after outmuscling Tyler Myers in a race down the middle, tipped it high over the shoulder of Pavelec. It was the first of two for Smith on the night, who, has a new career high with 21 goals on the year.
After a lengthy review initiated by the Jets, hoping to have it reversed on a missed offside, the play was inconclusive, leaving the goal on the board.
Luongo was dialled in at the other end, turning aside all 16 shots he faced in the opening frame. With 25 total attempts, the Jets had possession for more than 70 percent of the period, while the Cats – in the third of a five-game road trip – barely had a sniff, recording just five shots in the first 24 minutes and change.
The Jets eventually got to Luongo, tying the game at 5:23 of the second period as Byfuglien whacked home a loose puck the blue paint, giving him 16 on the year and his first in 11 games. Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele drew the apples, extending the former’s point streak to three.
A shorthanded goal by Copp put the Jets in front for the first time just two-and-a-half minutes later, The rookie snapped a 45-game goalless drought with a beautiful deke to the forehand, beating Luongo five-hole.
“He’s a great goalie, so I just tried to make sure I got something on the net,” Copp said. “Once that puck started rolling I went to my move. That was good to get the weight off the shoulders a little bit, but we’re obviously worried about winning in here and we didn’t get that done tonight.
“I take a lot of pride in what I can do defensively, so I think adding that (offensive) part to my game is huge. I feel like we’ve been having a pretty good PK lately, pressuring up ice and getting sticks in lanes. I feel it’s something I can add to the team.”
Deadline acquisition Teddy Purcell had a chance for the tie late in the period as he slipped in alone, but his backhander in tight was emphatically turned aside by Pavelec, who stuck out the right pad.
The Jets were in control, until back-to-back penalties to Copp and Joel Armia put the home side in a hole.
“We played extremely well tonight. For the first two periods we were a way better team, but we gave them a 5-on-3 and that was the turn in momentum,” Pavelec said.
Added Mathieu Perreault, who became a father late last night: “We just can’t seem to be able to finish it off. It’s something we’ve got to figure out in here because it’s costing us. We show up in the first and the second, but we can’t show up in the third. … It’s a confidence issue, probably.”
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com