As losses go, it wasn’t as ugly as their last visit to this prairie city. Just don’t expect the Florida Panthers to speak glowingly about their time in Winnipeg any time soon.
In their first trip to the Manitoba capital since a 7-0 thumping last March, the Panthers played a solid road game for about 30 minutes only to watch the host Jets skate away with a 3-2 overtime victory Tuesday night at MTS Centre.
The Jets, coming off three consecutive losses, including a miserable road trip in Florida last week, improved to 3-1-0 at home in front of a sellout crowd of 15,015 spectators.
Bryan Little snapped a game-winning, power-play goal from the high slot with 15.2 seconds left in overtime as the Jets overcame two deficits to level their record at 4-4-1.
Florida had its two-game win streak snapped on the second of its four-game road trip. The Panthers are now 3-6-0.
“I’m not satisfied,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “We felt that we could have had two points out of here. I thought we played a fairly solid road game. I think we did a lot of good things, but fatigue played a little bit into a few of the mistakes that happened, specifically on the last goal, and that’s what happened when you keep on going to the same guys.”
The Panthers almost averted disaster in OT, having killed off all but five seconds of Filip Kuba’s tripping penalty. But Little found space as a result of blown defensive assignments and ripped the puck top shelf to help the Jets avenge a loss in Sunrise last Thursday.
The first period was textbook for how a road team, coming into one of the toughest environments in the NHL, wants to play. The Panthers bottled the Jets up and allowed next to nothing. In fact, Winnipeg went 13 minutes 52 seconds before registering its first shot.
“That’s one issue with our game is just the level of consistency,” Dineen said of the change between the lockdown success of the first period and the game opening up as it went along. “That’s a [level] we have to keep from shift to shift and period and game to game. We’re heading in the right direction, but we’re not there yet.”
The Panthers got on the board first, thanks largely to a solid solo effort from Drew Shore, who split the Winnipeg defense and forced Ondrej Pavelec to make a save. The rebound bounced to rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, who found an open net from the circle to the left of Pavelec and buried it with 1:48 left in the first period.
The Jets evened things when Blake Wheeler snapped a shot under the right arm of Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen 2:28 into the second period.
But Florida responded almost immediately. A mere 1:24 later, Tomas Fleischmann wired a shot through traffic for his third of the season to put the Panthers up 2-1.
The Winnipeg crowd was back in the game late in the second as the Jets looked to turn the momentum in their favor. Mark Stuart snapped a low-flying shot from the left point, and it redirected through Clemmensen’s legs at 12:21 to tie the game at 2.
After being outshot 7-3 in the first period, the Jets finished with a 21-19 advantage for the game.
The Panthers’ four-game road trip continues Thursday in Philadelphia and wraps up Saturday in Washington.