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Panthers end road skid with shootout win over Jets

by Patrick Williams
WINNIPEG -- The Florida Panthers have had the hockey gods working against them as of late, but a 4-3 shootout decision against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night in front of 15,004 at the MTS Centre should soothe their nerves.

After the Jets (22-20-6) erased two leads that Florida's Kris Versteeg had built with a pair of goals, they rebounded to tie the game at 3-3 late in the third period. But Mikael Samuelsson scored to capture the shootout on the Panthers' seventh attempt and reward goaltender Scott Clemmensen with a win on his 41-save night.

"We just needed a win," Clemmensen said. "It didn't matter what the shot count was or what happened out there. We just needed a win. Regardless of how we got it, or when or against whom, the circumstances of a third game in four nights, we just needed a win. It was a gutsy win for us."

The Panthers (22-15-10) ended an eight-game drought on the road with the win and picked up two points despite being outshot, 44-23. The win also pushed Florida ahead of the Washington Capitals to the Southeast Division's top spot at 54 points as well as into third place in the Eastern Conference race.

Turnovers tormented the Jets all evening and frustrated coach Claude Noel, whose club went without the injured Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien and Tim Stapleton. The Jets have a six-game road trip looming that will keep them away from the MTS Centre until Feb. 7. The point earned held the Jets in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind Washington -- but the Capitals hold two games in hand.

"The disappointing part in the game for me," Noel said, "was really the fact that we gave them three free goals. I thought that was really disappointing. We had poor possession of the puck three times in our zone. We served up three pizzas that ended up in our net."

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen's club had already dropped two games this week, including Friday's 3-1 snow-delayed loss to the Chicago Blackhawks that landed them in Winnipeg in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

"It was a pretty big wave that came at us," Dineen said of the Winnipeg onslaught, "and we did a pretty great job of holding them to [44] shots, which is a little facetious."

The Panthers' top line of Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Versteeg, who had a combined two assists in the club's previous six games before meeting the Jets, reawakened, however. Versteeg picked up a pair of goals in the same building in which he notched a hat trick back on Nov. 10 when the clubs had last met.

"I have been kind of brutal as of late," said Versteeg, who had not scored over a nine-game span dating back to Dec. 27. "I have been missing a lot of opportunities, a lot of open nets, a lot of breakaways. I think it was just a matter of time before I got a bounce, and tonight was the night, obviously."

Mike Santorelli had the Panthers' other goal to support Clemmensen.

"He had a really solid game," Dineen said of his veteran backup netminder. "You look at his record, and he really has done a good job for us this year. I think that he was chomping at the bit, and he really wanted to get in there. A really well-deserved two points for Scott Clemmensen."

The Jets received some rejuvenated offense themselves, as well. Winnipeg received a pair of goals from Nik Antropov, who has found chemistry on a second line with Andrew Ladd and Kyle Wellwood. Alexander Burmistrov also tallied, and Ondrej Pavelec played his 40th game of the season, making 20 saves.

Winnipeg erased a pair of Florida leads, coming back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to tie the game late in the third period, but the Panthers managed to contain the damage in closing out the remaining time in the third period and overtime.

"That was a tired bunch that we had," Dineen said. "I just liked our push-back and our fight tonight. I thought that for the most part it wasn't a thing of beauty, but we found a way, and that has been a bit of our identity this year -- finding a way to win those games."

Fifty-seven seconds after Winnipeg had finally erased a two-goal lead that the Panthers had built in the first period, Versteeg snapped a hard shot from the top of the circles that Pavelec juggled before the puck bounced behind the goaltender into the net to regain the Panthers' lead, 3-2.

But Burmistrov erased Florida's lead and his own 10-game goal drought with 6:15 remaining in the third period. Burmistrov hesitated with the puck for a moment at the right of Clemmensen before shoving a shot that found open space between the goaltender's right arm and body and tied the game at 3-3.

Florida went up 1-0 when Marcel Goc outmuscled the Winnipeg defense along the left half-boards and centered a pass to Versteeg, who drew Pavelec to the ice before lifting a backhander high 5:40 into the game.

The Panthers forced Winnipeg into a 2-0 first-intermission deficit when Santorelli pinned Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey behind the Jets net in the period's final minute. Santorelli's puck pursuit pressured Hainsey into a turnover that sent the puck into the front of the net. Krys Barch flipped a shot on goal that Santorelli nudged into the net with 16 seconds left in the period.

"We made mistakes in our zone, and they capitalized on all three," center Jim Slater said. "When you give a team like that chances when they don't really have to earn them, then that can happen."

But the Jets responded early in the second period when Antropov picked up his second goal in as many games. Wellwood wheeled behind the Florida net before pushing a pass into slot traffic that the big center snapped past Clemmensen and halve the Panthers' lead.

Antropov then erased the Florida lead five minutes into the third period when he cruised into the right circle, dangled and then placed a shot that handcuffed Clemmensen.

Afterward, the Jets chose to be grateful that they collected at least one point.

"I think that anytime you battle back it's kind of more of a point gained," said defenseman Zach Bogosian, who returned after missing five games due to injury. "Sure, the turnovers [hurt]. We did show that we can battle back, and we didn't give up right until the end."
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