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Jets ride power play past Panthers, end home skid

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets ended the Florida Panthers' five-game winning streak with a 5-2 victory Friday night at MTS Centre, and in the process put an end to their own lengthy victory drought at home.

Two power-play goals by Tobias Enstrom and Blake Wheeler 33 seconds apart in the first period broke open a 1-1 game that saw Winnipeg hold leads of 4-1 and 5-2 by the end of the second period.

The Jets took advantage of a Florida team that was tired after arriving in Winnipeg at 3 a.m. Friday following a 4-2 victory against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

"I thought that we played a good first period," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "We came out hard. We tried to take advantage of their travel and second [game] in two nights."

The Jets' 25th-ranked power play, which went 2-for-4 against Florida, has found traction lately, scoring in five of the team's past six games (7-for-23) after an 0-for-22 slide in seven games. Often a momentum-halting source of frustration this season, the Jets used their power play to build energy against the Panthers.

"Any time you score on the power play creates a lot of momentum for your team," Wheeler said. "To get a couple, that's almost icing on the cake. We really fed off that and were able to carry that over and sustain a bigger lead, which is nice."

The win ended the Jets' six-game losing streak (0-3-3) on home ice. They had not won at MTS Centre since a 3-2 shootout victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 15. It was their first home regulation victory since a 5-0 win against the Nashville Predators on Nov. 8.

Florida (14-18-5) had won seven of its past eight games before Friday. The game wrapped up a four-game Canadian road trip for the Panthers, who return to South Florida for a five-game homestand that extends into January.

"It was a good road trip for us," forward Shawn Matthias said. "We needed that. We got three big wins in tough buildings. [This loss] is disappointing. At the end of the day, we've got to build on that."

The Jets (16-16-5) play three of their next four games on the road, including Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks.

Matthias opened the scoring 7:45 into the game with his fourth goal, ending a 14-game goalless drought. Nick Bjugstad also scored for Florida.

The Jets scored three unanswered goals to end the first. Rookie defenseman Jacob Trouba tied the game at 1-1 with his first goal since his NHL debut against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 1. Enstrom's second goal of the season and Wheeler's 12th extended the Jets' lead to 3-1.

Evander Kane and Michael Frolik each scored his ninth goal in the second period. Rookie center Mark Scheifele had two assists to extend his point streak to five games (three goals, four assists). Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien also had two assists.

Panthers goaltender Jacob Markstrom made 27 saves his first appearance since Nov. 5. Markstrom, whom the Panthers recalled from the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League on Dec. 12, has allowed four or more goals in three of his past four NHL starts.

Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who lost to Florida 5-2 on Dec. 5, stopped 21 shots.

"You need every win," Pavelec said of the Jets, who remain eight points behind the Minnesota Wild for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. "It's the same for me; winning is a good feeling. But we need way more than this win. We have to keep going."

Matthias bounced the puck through Pavelec's skates following a Byfuglien turnover in the Winnipeg defensive zone to give the Panthers the early lead.

Trouba scored to tie it while the teams played at 4-on-4. The goal came after a slew of penalties resulted in 3-on-3 action. The 19-year-old skated the puck from the point into the low slot before shoveling a shot that snuck through Markstrom's pads.

Enstrom's one-timer on a bouncing puck during a 5-on-3 power play at 15:24 of the first period gave the Jets a 2-1 lead. Wheeler made it 3-1 on a 5-on-4 power play at 15:57, deflecting Zach Bogosian's left-point shot.

"They came out really hard in the first, and basically won the game in the first period," Panthers interim coach Peter Horachek said.

Kane increased the Jets' lead to 4-1 at 1:03 into the second period. Frolik scooped up a Florida turnover at the Jets blue line, moved the puck down the right boards into the Florida zone and sent a pass across the slot to Kane, who lifted a shot over Markstrom.

"We put an emphasis on that start tonight," Wheeler said. We knew they're on a bit of a road trip, and the second game in two nights is never easy, so that start was huge for us. We had a tough game in Buffalo (on Tuesday, a 4-2 loss), and our group was champing at the bit to get going again. We were excited to play tonight and get the opportunity to get the bad taste out of our mouth."

Bjugstad cut it to 4-2 at 5:55 when he snapped a shot past Pavelec's glove. It was his seventh goal. Frolik made it 5-2 with a snap shot that beat Markstrom with 2:07 left in the second.

With three wins on their Canadian road trip, the Panthers head home armed with some hard-won confidence and experience. Horachek chose to use the loss against the Jets as a building block for a young and inexperienced team that he assumed control of Nov. 8 after Florida fired Kevin Dineen.

"For us, it's the learning, the progress and moving forward in this situation," Horachek explained. "We're learning how to win. We're learning how to handle situations. Even tonight, you're learning to deal with adversity. You're coming in, you're a little bit tired. You're in that situation where they come out strong, they get some calls, they get some 5-on-3 [situations], so you're learning from that. This is part of the process where you're learning to win."

"You've got to learn to deal with that in all the buildings you're going to play in," Horachek added. "We're going to see this again. It's a process that I think that our guys are moving forward with and learning how to be winners."

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