SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers broke out of their scoring slump in a big way.
Alex Kovalev scored the go-ahead goal during Florida’s five-goal outburst in the third period, helping the Panthers rally for a 6-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.
Kris Versteeg, Peter Mueller, Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Kopecky also scored in the third frame for the Panthers, who scored four unanswered goals in the final 8:40 after falling behind 3-2.
Brian Campbell also scored and Jose Theodore stopped 22 shots to help Florida snap a five-game losing streak with its first win since the season opener on Jan. 19. The six goals were one better than the five they totalled during the losing streak.
“We did some good things out there previous games and we knew we were moving in the right direction and if we were just going to keep pushing eventually it was going to turn around and tonight was the night,” Kovalev said.
Tobias Enstrom, Olli Jokinen and Grant Clitsome scored as the Jets dropped their second in a row following a three-game win streak. Ondrej Pavelev had 28 saves for Winnipeg.
Trailing 3-2, Florida tied it at 3 on a goal by Mueller. Pavelev made a glove save on a shot by Filip Kuba but the puck bounced out and Mueller grabbed it and poked it in at 11:20 of the third.
The Panthers went ahead 4-3 on the power play just over a minute later when Kovalev’s shot from the slot beat Pavelev. Florida then stretched its lead to 5-3 at 15:29 when Huberdeau’s weak shot bounced off a defenceman and into the net. Kopecky added an empty net goal late in the third for the final margin.
“That was the difference for me tonight,” said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen. “You get down a goal and keep bouncing back. You get down again and we’ve had a few kicks in the tail here in the last 10 days. That was a little bit of the identity that we were trying to build on and we hadn’t seen it.”
Winnipeg’s players felt they were in control until that final stretch of the third.
“We just didn’t play to win the game,” Pavelev 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 Jets took a 3-2 lead at 7:38 of the third when Enstrom shot from just inside the left circle, beating Theodore on the glove side. It was the last time they would lead in the game.
“You can slice it how you want. We’ve got the game in control, but it’s a 60-minute game and it came apart in the third period and they scored two power play goals,” Jets coach Claude Noel said.
Jokinen gave the Jets a 2-1 lead at 1: 23 of the third with a wrister from the right side of the crease that got past Theodore.
“This is a tough league to win and if you take penalties it gets even harder to win the games,” Jokinen said.
The Panthers tied it at 2 a few minutes later on Versteeg’s goal. Tomas Fleischmann passed from behind the goal line out to Versteeg in front and his wrister beat Pavelev at 3:35. Versteeg made his first start of the season after missing the first five games because of injury.
The Panthers got on the board first on Campbell’s goal at 5:14 of the second during a 5-on-3 power play. Campbell took a shot from the top of the right circle that bounced past Pavelec into the net. It was the fifth straight game in which the Jets have allowed the first goal.
The Jets tied it at 16:11 of the second when Clitsome fired a shot from above the left circle that caromed off the inside post and into the net for his first goal of the season.
Florida’s Scottie Upshall left the game after being injured in a fight with James Wright in the third period. Upshall struck his head on the boards after his helmet came off during the fight and he also came off the ice limping.
Notes: Panthers D Ed Jovanovski is expected to miss at least two games after injuring his knee Tuesday at Tampa. … C Marcel Goc made his season debut after being medically cleared from an injury while playing in Germany during the lockout. … Jets D Dustin Byfuglien was scratched Thursday with a lower body injury. … D Zach Redmond made his NHL debut after being a healthy scratch the first six games.