Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said the team’s Achilles’ heel during the first half of the season was the team’s inability to win games in overtime.
So far it’s a problem in the second half, as well.
The Panthers rallied from a two-goal deficit on Friday night yet watched Dustin Byfuglien wrist a shot past Jacob Markstrom with 40.5 seconds left in overtime to lift Winnipeg to a 3-2 win at BB&T Center.
Florida, now 5-7-6 since beating the Jets here on Jan. 31, is 1-6 in overtime games this season and has lost five in a row since beating the host Flyers in a shootout on Feb. 7.
The Panthers have suffered five of their six overtime losses on home ice. Florida’s lone road overtime loss came in Winnipeg.
“Losing five overtime points at home is tough. It leaves a little sting,” Dineen said. “You lose five games at home in overtime is disappointing for our players and for our fan base. The game had some tempo to it. Not to finish it and push it to the next level is disappointing.”
The Panthers, who officially began the second half of this abbreviated 2013 season Friday, got a league-low 19 points in the first half yet somehow remain within shouting distance of the playoff race.
With the point earned Friday, Florida is seven points back of Southeast Division leading Carolina.
“We played hard and battled back,” said Shawn Matthias, who tied the score at 2 with 14:10 left in the third. “It’s getting frustrating, and we’ve been through this before. We need to turn this ship around, stop talking about it and do it. We can’t keep losing like this.”
Goalie Jacob Markstrom was back in net for the Panthers one night after being yanked in Washington. Markstrom, whom Dineen said “wasn’t ready to play,” had given up two goals on the first two shots of Thursday’s game.
On Friday, Winnipeg scored on its first shot of the night — although Markstrom stayed put.
The Jets took a 1-0 lead when Andrew Ladd drove in and fired a shot Markstrom got a piece of but let trickle through at 2:35 of the first.
Later in the period, Blake Wheeler worked his way into the Florida zone and had a clean shooting lane after freezing Markstrom. Wheeler fired and on Winnipeg’s sixth shot of the night, it was 2-0.
“They got a goal right away and that’s not how you want to start the game,” Markstrom said. “I felt better as the game went one. The guys did a hell of a job in the third to tie it up.”
The Panthers were able to grab a sliver of momentum late in the first when Jonathan Huberdeau kept his hot streak against the Jets going as he scored his fourth goal in as many games against Winnipeg.
Huberdeau got his 12th goal — which leads all NHL rookies, as well as Florida teammates — by batting in a loose puck in front of Ondrej Pavelec with 14.8 seconds left before the break.
For a team fresh off a 7-1 loss in Washington, getting back in Friday’s game was important.
“We had pretty good momentum but missed a lot of chances,’’ Huberdeau said. “We didn’t get the two points but it could have gone either way. We played pretty good.’’
Florida created many chances Friday against Ondrej Pavelec but only scored twice. Pavelec made 38 saves.
“We had some good offensive opportunities,” Dineen said. “We looked like a team that got in at 3 in the morning. We looked better once we got our legs going. We started to push and created some opportunities. That’s how we have to play.”
Kris Versteeg was back on the ice Friday after missing the previous 12 games with a chest injury. Versteeg was injured in Florida’s 6-5 overtime loss to Washington on Feb. 12.
Versteeg has had his way with the Jets in the past, scoring six goals with four assists against Winnipeg in the past two seasons. On Friday, Versteeg was held off the score sheet.
“He’s been missed, been out for a long time,” Dineen said. “He’s a guy who’s been working hard and in a back-to-back, can give you a jolt of energy.
“That’s an energy you can really take advantage of. He was a big piece of our puzzle last year.”
With Versteeg back in the lineup, Jerred Smithson was Florida’s healthy scratch.