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Panthers end slide by beating Jets 6-3

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers found their offense Thursday night-- and made their losing streak disappear.

The Panthers scored five goals in the third period as they twice overcame deficits to beat the Winnipeg Jets 6-3 at the BB&T Center and snap their five-game losing streak.

Florida had scored a total of five goals during the five-game slide that followed their victory against the Carolina Hurricanes on opening night.

"We did some good things out there the previous game and we knew we were moving in the right direction," said veteran forward Alex Kovalev, who scored the game-winner at 12:37 of the third. "We knew if we were just going to keep pushing, eventually it was going to turn around and tonight was the night."

Power-play goals 1:17 apart by Peter Mueller and Kovalev erased a 3-2 deficit and gave the Panthers the lead for good before Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Kopecky padded the lead.

Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg also scored for the Panthers, while Jose Theodore made 22 saves to improve his career record against Winnipeg to 16-6-2. Tomas Fleischmann had a career-high three assists.

With the victory, the Panthers avoided their first six-game losing streak since an 0-7-3 stretch from March 19 to April 8, 2011.

"We know we have a lot of character in this room," Versteeg said. "We knew what we needed to do in order to do it, but it was about walking the walk and not just saying we were going to do it."

Grant Clitsome, Olli Jokinen and Tobias Enstrom scored for the Jets, who lost their second in a row following a three-game winning streak. Ondrej Pavelec, who came into the game with a 7-2-1 career record against Florida, stopped 28 shots.

After giving up two power-play goals in Tuesday's 4-3 loss at Montreal, the Jets allowed three against the Panthers.

"We just didn't play to win the game," Pavelec said. "The penalties killed us. You can't expect to win if you take those penalties. It's very simple. They played a little bit better than us."

The Panthers were without the services of center Stephen Weiss (groin) for a fourth consecutive game and were also missing captain Ed Jovanovski due to a knee injury. The Jets played without defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

After Winnipeg took a second lead in the third period on Enstrom's goal at 7:38, Mueller tied the game 3-3 at 11:20. Mueller found himself alone in front of the net and put in a rebound of Filip Kuba's wrist shot from the point after Pavelec let the puck slip out of his glove.

"He's a solid goaltender," Mueller said. "He's an All-Star. I'm sure he doesn't do that many times, but I'm just happy I got to capitalize on that opportunity and put it past him."

Mueller, signed as a free agent by the Panthers last summer, has scored in each of the last three games.

"My expectation of him is to be one of our offensive leaders," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "He gets put in that situation. He leans that way. We've got some things to tidy up on the defensive side. He's certainly consistently been the one guy that's creating chances game to game."

Kovalev put the Panthers ahead to stay 77 seconds later when he fired a wrist shot from the slot. Pavelec got a piece of the puck but it went between his body and his left arm into the net.

Kovalev, who took a feed from Fleischmann, said he was surprised to find himself so open.

"I don't know why everybody stopped," Kovalev said. "Maybe they got caught on the play or maybe they thought there was a whistle, but I was wide open. Flash gave me the pass and all I had to do was rip it as hard as I could."

Jokinen broke a 1-1 tie at 1:23 of the third period when he one-timed Blake Wheeler's pass from the corner. Jokinen, Florida's captain from 2006-09, has four goals in 10 career games against his former team.

"We had a lead," Jokinen said. "We didn't manage the game well. We had the lead but we have to keep out of the penalty box. We've got to play a lot better."

Versteeg tied it at 3:35 with his first goal in his second game of the season. Versteeg, who had seven goals in five games against the Jets last season, one-timed Fleischmann's nifty feed into the slot.

"Looks like I'll be signing there one day," Versteeg joked. "It's kind of funny. You don't really think of it that way, but everyone else keeps bringing it up. I really have no answer for that, but it's just a great play on Flash's part on that goal."

Enstrom, who came into the game third in the NHL among defensemen with seven assists, made it 3-2 Winnipeg with his first goal of the season. After Evander Kane's cross-ice pass bounced off the boards, Enstrom one-timed a slap shot from just inside the top of the left circle that beat Theodore.

The Panthers set a season high for shots in a period in a scoreless first when Pavelec made 16 saves. Florida's previous best was 15 shots in the third period of a 4-1 loss at Ottawa Jan. 21.

Campbell opened the scoring at 5:14 of the second with his third of the season, all of them on the power play. With eight seconds left in a 5-on-3 advantage, Campbell fired a slap shot from the top of the right circle past Pavelec with Kopecky providing a screen.

Winnipeg, which failed to score during a 45-second 5-of-3 in the first period, tied the game at 16:11 when Clitsome scored his first of the season. After taking a diagonal pass from the boards from Andrew Ladd, Clitsome beat Theodore with a slap shot that went in off the far post.

While the Jets come back Friday night with a game at Tampa Bay, the Panthers are set to embark on a four-game road trip that begins Sunday at Buffalo and includes stops in Winnipeg, Philadelphia and Washington.

At least now the Panthers can hit the road without the cloud that had been hovering over them since opening night.

"I was feeling it," Dineen said. "We always try to say the right things, but we were in the deep end there. We're still not out of it. Let's not kid ourselves. It's only one win. We're still some way from getting back to respectability. We have a long way to go.

"Tonight was a good step. We've been looking for effort, we've been looking for emotion and I think we saw that in our game tonight. I'm glad it happened at home in front of our fans."

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