Belfour made 13 saves in the first period and Jokinen’s second career hat trick broke open a 1-0 game as the Florida Panthers snapped a four-game losing streak with a 5-1 victory over Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night. “It’s good for our confidence, but it’s just one game,” said Jokinen, who scored twice in the second period and once in the third. “Eddie was outstanding in the first period. We didn’t do a good job in the first, but Eddie was outstanding. He was the biggest reason we were up by one goal.”
The Panthers hadn’t won since a 2-1 victory over Toronto on Nov. 2. They had dropped 11 of 14 overall.
Chris Gratton and Jay Bouwmeester also scored for Florida, which had lost four of five at home since starting the season 4-0 there.
“We can’t be satisfied where we are now,” Jokinen said. “We have to build on it.”
Tomas Plekanec scored for Montreal, which had a two-game winning streak snapped. The Canadiens went 2-2 during a six-day road trip.
Belfour finished with 27 saves for the Panthers. He made several big saves in the first period when Montreal outshot Florida 13-7. He was particularly strong during a power play when he stopped five shots.
“When we had some breakdowns, he shut the door and it gave us a second wind,” Florida coach Jacques Martin said.
David Aebischer stopped 20 of 24 shots for Montreal before being pulled for the third period. Cristobal Huet stopped 14 of 15 shots in the third.
It was the second consecutive start Aebischer was pulled from the game. He was replaced late in the second period of Saturday’s 5-1 loss at Toronto after allowing four goals on 28 shots.
“Tonight he didn’t seem comfortable from the start to the end of the second period,” said Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau. “But I’m not worried about him. He ll bounce back.”
Jokinen, who hadn’t scored since Florida’s last victory, gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead 37 seconds into the middle period when his soft wrist shot sneaked between Aebischer’s leg and his glove.
“I was ready,” Aebischer said. “I just didn’t play well. I have to play better. I have to do better next time.”
After Plekanec cut the lead to 2-1, Jokinen restored the Panthers’ two-goal margin at 16:53. He took a pass from Nathan Horton across the crease and waited patiently before lifting the puck over Aebischer.
“They scored a big goal to come back to 2-1,” Jokinen said. “When you get scored against, it s good to get a goal right back.”
Bouwmeester made it 4-1, scoring a power-play goal at 19:35 of the second period. His wrist shot went through the legs of two Montreal players and beat Aebischer low to the glove side. Belfour was credited with the 33rd assist of his 18-year career.
Jokinen completed the hat trick with 31.5 seconds left in the game when he poked home a loose puck in the crease. His other three-goal game was Nov. 25, 2005, against Pittsburgh.
Gratton scored the only goal of the first period when his quick wrist shot from the circle went over Aebischer’s glove.
“I thought we had a decent start,” Carbonneau said. “We played pretty well in the first period, but we came out of it 1-0 down. That second goal really killed us and cut our legs off.”
Notes: Florida LW Martin Gelinas left the game in the second period because of a bruised chest. Gelinas, injured when he was hit by a puck, didn’t return. … Joe Nieuwendyk returned after missing two games with back problems. … Florida C Stephen Weiss returned after missing one game because of a knee injury. … Montreal D Janne Niinimaa, acquired in the off-season in a trade with Dallas for C Mike Ribeiro, was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Niinimaa is a team-worst minus-7.