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Perreault scores four goals to lift Jets past Panthers

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

– Mathieu Perreault came into the night as one of the National Hockey League’s hottest players. He left having cemented that status and then some, recording a career-high four-goal game as the Winnipeg Jets routed the visiting Florida Panthers 8-2 on Tuesday night at MTS Centre.

Perreault, who ties a franchise record with four goals in a single game, has now collected 21 points in his last 19 games.

“It’s something very special,” he said. “Obviously the bounces were going my way. It was one of those nights – a lot of fun. The power-play has been great and my linemates have been awesome. Lately we’ve been struggling at keeping the lead, but tonight I thought we did well.”

Perreault started the season without a goal in his first 19 games. He has 15 in the 24 games since and is now only three off his career high of 18.

“Slow start, but things are going well and I couldn’t be happier,” Perreault said. "The crowd was awesome. I had chills. I was sitting there on the bench and couldn’t believe it. Crazy."

Perreault put the Jets up 1-0 with a beautiful goal early on, punching a blistering one-time shot past Roberto Luongo after a pinching Zach Bogosian – evading the check of a hapless Cat down low – delivered the perfect centering pass.

The 5-foot-10, 185-pound pivot made it a 2-0 game with a power-play goal at 11:24, whipping a shot past Luongo after the goaltender bit on the pump fake.

“We did what we needed to do early in the game,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “Both teams had the same challenge of playing four (games) in six (nights), but we came out right, we came out strong.

"It was a real good effort.”

Dustin Byfuglien, who was named as an NHL All-Star over the weekend, showed why with a fabulous play early on in the second. Wheeling and high-stepping off the rush, No. 33 unleashed a missile from the top of the far faceoff circle, beating Luongo top shelf, glove side.

The Panthers got on the board with a bit of a lucky one at 5:15 of the middle frame. With the puck loose at the goalmouth, Jay Harrison inadvertently knocked it into his own net, giving the visitors a brief bit of life in an otherwise one-sided contest.

It was nothing more than a whimper – a mere blip on the radar.

Sixty-eight seconds later, Byfuglien expanded the lead with a gorgeous goal off a give-and-go, skilfully tucking a forehand shot through of the wickets of the goaltender.

Luongo was pulled a few minutes later, giving way to former Jet Al Montoya, who didn’t fare much better.

“It’s a big win,” Byfuglien said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on the road or at home. When it’s time to come to the rink and put on our gear, we’ve got to come together.

“We did that tonight.”

To a deafening roar from the 15,000-plus on hand, Perreault recorded Goals 3 and 4 less than a minute apart late in the second period.

The 27-year-old completed the hat trick at 15:23 with a redirection of Toby Enstrom’s long-range point shot, beating Montoya clean between the legs. With an assist to Michael Frolik, who engineered the opportunity with a strong, solo effort, Perreault recorded his fourth with a backhand shot off a rebound, bouncing it off the goaltender and in at 16:32.

“And they can cheer again!” as the legendary Bob Cole once said.

Indeed, it was loud.

“I’m happy for him,” Maurice said. “He’s done it the right way and is working hard. He went through that stretch where he wasn’t scoring and his practices got even more competitive, and he worked even harder. It’s a good sell for the coaches, because if you work that hard, good things will happen. When you compete that hard, you know that a player with that kind of skill is going to break through.

“He was always doing the right things. The most important thing that these guys do isn’t score – it’s win. And we were doing that and he was a big part of it.”

“It’s the most minutes I’ve ever played,” Perreault added. “Paul has a lot of confidence in me and puts me out in all different kinds of situations. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Harrison extended the lead to 7-1 early in the third, but the Panthers got it back in a hurry, as Brad Boyes lifted a shot past Hutchinson.

In similar fashion to Perreault’s opener, Evander Kane scored a power-play goal late to secure the 8-2 final.

Tonight’s win was the 500th in Paul Maurice’s NHL head-coaching career.

“I wear a suit to the rink. Never blocked a shot, never scored a goal, but I feel honoured to have been in this league this long,” he said.

“I’ll keep the puck. I’ve got a sweater from every team that I’ve coached and I’ve got a handful of pucks for my firsts. I’ll hang on to this one. It will have a good spot. When I coached my 1000th game, I didn’t appreciate it for about six months after. I always felt that had something to do with guys keeping you around and surviving.

“But I think my family will enjoy this one. I hope they will.”

-- Ryan Dittrick,
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