After enduring an absolutely brutal loss on Thursday to the Washington Capitals that saw them put the Florida Panthers in four-goal hole less than ten minutes in, one would’ve hoped that the Cats would have come out Friday against the Winnipeg Jets with some urgency in their game. Instead, for the second consecutive game, the opponent’s first shot beat Jacob Markstrom as Florida spent much of the evening trying to climb out of a first period, two-goal deficit in the 3-2 OT loss.
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You’d have forgiven the Florida Panthers if they came out flat in Tuesday night’s game against the Winnipeg Jets as it’s been a rough few games for them. In addition to dropping a home and home weekend series against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Cats lost Jose Theodore, Scottie Upshall and Dmitry Kulikov to injures. Eight hours before game time, it was announced that Stephen Weiss, a pending unrestricted free agent and career leader in games played as a Panther, would undergo wrist surgery and miss the remainder of the season. But, instead of feeling sorry for themselves, Florida put together it’s most complete game of the season in a 4-1 win over their Canadian division opponent.
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WINNIPEG JETS: 10-10-1 (21 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 6-11-5 (17 PTS)
Tonight’s meeting between the Winnipeg Jets and the Florida Panthers will be the third of five between the two Southeast division teams. Each team has won a game on home ice, with the Panthers winning 6-3 on January 31st when Alex Kovalev scored the winning goal, and Winnipeg won on February 5th in overtime when Brian Little scored the game winner as the Jets beat the Panthers 3-2. The Jets begin a four game road swing that takes them to Tampa on Thursday and then right back here in Sunrise on Friday before they head to New Jersey on Sunday to finish their trip. They’ll be looking for their third consecutive road win this evening and are 6-4-1 away from the MTS Center overall.
The Jets now find themselves in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt after winning three of their last four which included two victories New Jersey Devils and one against the New York Rangers. The winning streak came to a halt when the Jets were shutout by the Washington Capitals 3-0 in a game that saw Winnipeg outshoot the Caps 31-8 in the first two periods. Brayden Holtby of Washington however played an outstanding game for Washington, and held the Jets at bay. One of the problems for the Jets has been their power play which sits near the bottom of the league with a 14.3% success percentage. Claude Noel the Winnipeg coach spoke about it after the loss to Washington:
“We probably could have used one on the power play,” coach Claude Noel said. “The power play will probably be a topic because [the media] can’t think past the stats. I thought that our power play was better than it has been.”
After needing a shootout to decide 17 of their games in 2011-12, the Florida Panthers had yet need one through eight games this season. With the way Tuesday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets ended, the Cats probably would’ve liked to try their hand at the skills competition. With just 16 seconds left in overtime, Bryan Little’s power play wrister from the slot beat Scott Clemmensen to give the Jets a 3-2 win. To compound the frustration, the Panthers had worked tirelessly to stymie the Winnipeg power play, only to have Little’s shot cross the red line with six seconds left in the 4-on-3 advantage.
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FLORIDA PANTHERS: 3-5-0 (6 PTS.) vs. WINNIPEG JETS: 3-4-1 (7 PTS.)
Game Day Song: Roulette, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
The Florida Panthers are in Winnipeg tonight for game two of a four game road trip that has started off with grit, character, and a much needed come from behind win. After being down for the count 3-1 against the Buffalo Sabres Sunday afternoon, the Panthers literally shut down the line of Tomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson after the trio put the Sabres on top 3-1, on their way to a 4-3 victory. What was most impressive about the win was that the Panthers held the Sabres to only 10 shots on goal in the final 40 minutes making the job of Jose Theodore that much easier. The lunch bucket style victory was a perfect example of what a road win should be as the Panthers simplified their game by woerking hard,minimizing their mistakes, and actually played some puck possession hockey. All elements that lead to their success last season.
Tonight the Panthers will go for their third win in a row against a Winnipeg Jets team that has lost three in a row. We all know these games can go one way or the other, but the Panthers would be doing themselves a huge favor if they can jump out to an early lead and quite the usually raucous crown of the MTS Center. The effort that we’ve seen over the past two games has been a complete turnaround from the style of play previous to that for Florida. Instead of standing around, missing passes, and making glaring mistakes, the Cats have regrouped, gone back to their old ways, and are beginning to play more as a team than a group of individuals. Brian Campbell who tied for second on the team in scoring summed it up best:
“We’re starting to come as a team a bit more now and have faith in coming back,” said Campbell, who had the go-ahead goal in the third Sunday. “Earlier in the season, we didn’t have a whole lot of faith and confidence. But now we’re starting to see our team develop.”
It may seem like hyperbole to say game seven of a 48 game schedule is a ‘must win’ but, entering the game with a five game losing streak, the Florida Panthers were in just such a situation Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets. After scoring two goals or less over their previous five contests, the Panthers exploded for six goals, including five in the third period in the 6-3 comeback win over their Canadian division foe. For the first time since opening night (not coincidentally), the Cats looked very much like the hard working, opportunistic squad that defied its detractors en route to the teams first ever division title.
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With music blasting in the dressing room, Dale Tallon smiling, the atmosphere here in Sunrise was completely different than it’s been in the last few days. A tight game at the beginning became wide open by the third period as the Florida Panthers defeated the Winnipeg Jets 6-3 to end their five game losing streak.
The Panthers had four unanswered goals in the final nine minutes of regulation with Tomas Kopecky getting an empty netter at the very end. Lots of positives to take out of this one, and you can tell that the tightness while not 100% gone, certainly has dissipated.
The win which is only the second of the season, allows the Panthers to head out for a three game road trip with a positive attitude, and with something to build on. Coach Kevin Dineen mentioned that a win like this is just one step to getting back to the way they know they should play. He’s actually looking forward to the three game road trip, as everyone will be together for a few days, and not have any local distractions to take their mind off the game. He’s looking at this trip as a way to continue building the chemistry on the team.
Peter Mueller who has now scored in three consecutive games was pleased with the effort, and was very happy for Jose Theodore.
Dave will have a full recap in the morning.
In closing, this was a much needed win, and the players knew it. Hard work by everyone is needed for them to be successful. Tonight they got it.
I told you it wasn’t time to panic!
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WINNIPEG JETS: 3-2-1 (7 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 1-5-0 (2 PTS.)
GAME DAY SONG: The Ties That Bind. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
Dustin Byfuglien and the Winnipeg Jets are hoping to feast on a frustrated and embarrassed Florida Panthers hockey team tonight, as the Jets look to rebound from a 4-3 loss in Montreal on Monday. Prior to that the Jets were on a three game winning streak, however in these last four games, Winnipeg has allowed the first goal in each of them. Something the Panthers need to consider as a quick start and a lead in the opening minutes would go a long way in building their shattered confidence. Head coach Claude Noel is rightfully concerned about giving up early goals:
“You can’t keep giving up goals early in the first period and expect that you’re going to come back, it’s just not the right way to play,” coach Claude Noel said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re home or on the road, it’s just a recipe for disaster.”
Blake Wheeler has scored three goals so far, and they’ve all come within the last four games he’s played in. Last season was Wheeler’s best as a pro as he scored 17 goals and had 47 assists for 64 points while playing in 80 games for the Jets. At 26 years old the big winger is just about to enter his prime, and it will be interested to see how he progresses. The interesting thing about Winnipeg is that their top two scorers are defenceman, as Tobias Enstrom and Big Buff lead the team with 7 points each, along with forward Evander Kane.