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Defense leads Panthers past Jets

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. - It was a big night all around for the Florida Panthers defense.

Dylan Olsen scored his first NHL goal and had an assist, and Erik Gudbranson also had a goal and an assist as they led the Panthers to a 5-2 victory against the Winnipeg Jets at BB&T Center on Thursday.

Mike Weaver, Dmitry Kulikov and Tom Gilbert each added an assist as the Panthers defense finished the night with seven points.

"I thought our whole team really stepped up defensively today," Gudbranson said. "We really stepped up and took care of our own end first and really forced them into nothing. That was really huge for us today."

Tomas Fleischmann also had a goal and an assist as he continues to break out of his scoring slump. The goal was the first in 15 games for Fleischmann, Florida's leading scorer in each of the past two seasons, and came two nights after he snapped a nine-game pointless streak with an assist in a 4-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators.

Nick Bjugstad and Jimmy Hayes also scored for the Panthers, who snapped a three-game losing streak and wrapped up a five-game homestand with a 2-3-0 record.

Acquired in the trade that sent Kris Versteeg to Chicago on Nov. 14, Olsen was playing in his 33rd NHL game. Hayes, the other prospect acquired in the Versteeg trade, scored his second goal in a Panthers uniform when he made it 5-2 with 2:44 left in regulation.

"It's awesome," Olsen said. "It's your first NHL goal. It was obviously exciting, but it's even better to get the win and get off that three-game losing streak. That's what we're excited about, and we've got to keep rolling from here."

Gudbranson used a little finesse and a little brute strength to be the driving force behind the two goals that turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead the Panthers would never relinquish.

He tied the score 1-1 at 14:02 of the first period with a blistering slap shot from the top of the right circle.

He then picked up the second assist when Olsen gave Florida a 2-1 lead at 3:31 of the second period. Gudbranson delivered a big check on Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom behind the Florida net, then pushed the puck forward to start a 3-on-2 rush while two Winnipeg players shoved him to show their displeasure with the hit.

"I think they were both trying to fight me," Gudbranson said. "I was just trying to get up the ice. I didn't expect that. I saw a little break for our guys and Olly jumped up, saw the play and had a great shot. It's great to get that monkey off the back, get that first one and definitely move forward in the right way."

Scottie Upshall fed a cross-ice pass to Olsen, who fired a wrist shot from the slot that beat Ondrej Pavelec high to the stick side.

"Guddy made a big hit behind the net and everyone just kind of seemed to focus on Guddy and the puck was just laying there," Olsen said. "I picked it up, broke it out, went down 3-on-2 and we got that goal. It was huge. It turned the tide of the game."

Tim Thomas, making his 13th consecutive start in net, stopped 29 shots. One of his saves in the first period was the 11,000th of his NHL career.

Andrew Ladd and Olli Jokinen scored for the Jets, who had won three of their first four games on a season-long six-game road trip that concludes Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Jets had moved over the .500 mark with an impressive 5-2 victory against the New York Rangers on Monday.

"The game wasn't very good," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "It wasn't really the score; obviously, the score is the area, but for me it was the way we played. We didn't have very many good players, we didn't play very intelligent. For as good as we were in New York, we played way different tonight. We had a hard time getting guys engaged in the game."

Pavelec made 21 saves for the Jets. Winnipeg was already without forward Evander Kane and also had to play without forward Michael Frolik, who was a late scratch because of flu-like symptoms.

Upshall added two assists for Florida as he extended his point streak to five games (2-4-6). His first assist was the 100th of his career.

It's the fourth time this season the Panthers have scored four or more goals; they've won all four games.

After Olsen's goal, Fleischmann made it 3-1 at 17:59 of the second when he stood in front of the net and put home the rebound of Weaver's wrist shot from the point. It was Fleischmann's first goal since Nov. 2, when he scored against the Washington Capitals.

"I did not expect to go through a month like that, but it happens," Fleischmann said of his drought. "I'm happy it's behind me."

The second assist on Fleischmann's goal went to Kulikov, who was back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch Tuesday against Ottawa. The Panthers also welcomed back veteran forward Tomas Kopecky, who missed five games because of an upper-body injury.

Rookie Aleksander Barkov did not play in the last 12 minutes of the third period after sustaining a lower-body injury, but the injury isn't believed to be serious.

Bjugstad made it 4-1 at 5:37 of the third period, eight seconds after the end of a power play. Upshall's tip of Gilbert's shot went just wide, but Bjugstad retrieved the puck behind the net and his wraparound attempt as he fell to the ice bounced off Pavelec and into the net.

Jokinen, who turned 35 on Thursday, scored at 12:45 when he one-timed Devin Setoguchi's pass from behind the net. The Jets kept up the pressure after Jokinen's goal and Chris Thorburn hit the post about a minute later.

Ladd opened the scoring 5:27 into the game with an easy tap-in after Thomas stopped Blake Wheeler's shot from the wing and Bryan Little centered a pass from the side of the net.

It would pretty much all be downhill from there for the Jets, who had allowed seven goals in their previous four games.

"It's very disappointing," Jokinen said. "Every single one of us feels we could have played better. We have to fix that fast. You've got to be 15, 16, 17 games over .500 to make the playoffs. If you're not ready to battle and stick with the game plan, you're not going to win."

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