SUNRISE, Fla. – Nothing has come easy for the Florida Panthers in their playoff run. The already-eliminated Winnipeg Jets didn’t give them any breaks, either.
Andrew Ladd scored two goals, including the winner 3:12 into overtime, to give the Jets a 5-4 victory over Florida that prevented the Panthers from clinching the Southeast Division title on Tuesday night.
Ladd’s shot from the left circle hit the far post and went in, capping the Jets’ comeback from a 3-0 deficit. Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane also scored for the Jets, and Ondrej Pavelec stopped 34 shots.
Tomas Kopecky, Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg and Marco Sturm had goals for Florida, and Jose Theodore made 25 saves. Fleischmann and Versteeg both had an assist.
The Panthers missed a chance to clinch the division and secure their first playoff berth since 2000, but they need only one point in their final two games to hold off Washington. Florida could have earned a spot in the playoffs if Buffalo had lost in regulation, but the Sabres beat Toronto in overtime.
“We haven’t done anything easy,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “I’m sure you’ve heard that from the locker room already, but we never seem to take the easy road. Unfortunately, tonight was a perfect example of that.”
The Panthers will play at Washington on Thursday and then host Carolina in the regular-season finale on Saturday, but they are stumbling to the finish line. Florida is 1-2-5 in its past eight games.
“We haven’t made it easy on ourselves all year. It looks like we’re following that trend,” said forward Stephen Weiss, who has been with the Panthers for 10 years without reaching the playoffs. “It sets up for a good one in Washington.”
The Panthers had a chance to win it in regulation when Fleischmann came down the ice on a breakaway, but Pavelec stopped his shot with 21 seconds left.
“I tried to make the shot go to the back end but he got there quick,” Fleischmann said. “There’s nothing I can do right now until the next couple days in Washington.”
Pavelec made some key saves late in the game, but none bigger than the one on Fleischmann.
“I just tried to stay focused on the breakaway,” Pavelec said. “It was bad ice and I thought he was going to shoot there but he went to the backhand. I just tried to make a save there to keep the team in the game.”
The Panthers tied it 4-4 with 3:53 left in regulation on a bad-angle shot from Kopecky that came from below the left circle.
The Jets got even at 3 just 53 seconds into the third when Ladd’s shot from the right circle beat Theodore on the glove side.
Taking advantage of a power play, the Jets took the lead on Little’s goal at 3:45 when his wrist shot from the right circle got past Theodore and made it 4-3.
The Jets weren’t particularly motivated by playing the role of spoiler.
“To be honest with you, it’s more about playing for each other and your fan base that is bigger than being a spoiler,” Ladd said. “But you try to find ways to get motivated, and if that motivates you then you use it to your advantage.”
Leading 2-0, the Panthers quickly added to their margin just 25 seconds into the second period. Fleischmann’s shot from the right circle hit Pavelec’s glove and went in. Fleischmann leads the Panthers with 27 goals.
It appeared the Panthers would then coast into the playoffs, but the already-eliminated Jets didn’t give up.
Winnipeg closed to 3-1 on a goal by Kane, who poked in a shot at 13:15 of the second for his team-leading 30th of the season.
The Jets got within a goal when Bogosian scored at 17:21 of the second.
Florida took a 1-0 lead on Sturm’s goal in the first, and stretched the lead to two a couple minutes later on Versteeg’s power-play goal. It was Versteeg’s first goal in 16 games, dating to Feb. 12 against the New York Islanders. Versteeg, who missed nine games because of a lower body injury, has a career-high 23 goals.
Notes: Weiss celebrated his 29th birthday Tuesday. He made his NHL debut and scored his first NHL goal 10 years earlier on his birthday in a 4-1 win against Pittsburgh. … Versteeg has three assists and a goal in his last three games after an eight-game pointless drought. … Winnipeg C Kyle Wellwood was sent home on Monday because of a fractured left ankle. Forward Patrice Cormier was recalled from St. John’s of the AHL.