The Panthers celebrated with a victory in Dallas on New Year’s Eve.
On Wednesday night, they looked a little hung over.
Time and again, the Panthers turned over the puck and then failed to clear it out of their own zone as they watched the visiting Winnipeg Jets — despite playing the night before — dip and dodge their way to a 4-1 victory over Florida at BB&T Center.
“It felt like we lost a lot of races to pucks and lost a lot of battles on pucks,” Shawn Thornton said. “Once we got behind we started to force some things, try and make things happen that were not there.
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“They came out flying. I know they’re staying here for a couple days, so they wanted to lay it all out and enjoy Florida. I’ve been there before.”
The Jets helped their playoff chances on this quick jaunt to Florida, not only beating the Panthers on Wednesday but taking care of the host Lightning the previous evening in Tampa.
Winnipeg won both meetings against the Panthers in a span of three weeks.
Florida has won just two of its past eight home games. Boos and catcalls were heard throughout the arena as the third period slogged on with the Panthers down three.
“They played really well, came in from Tampa [Tuesday night] and had really good legs,” Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe said.
“We were really slow, bad in the first, and looked really tired. We never got going.”
After a scoreless first period, the Jets jumped on the Panthers with a pair of goals spanning just over two minutes in the second.
Shawn Matthias, who spent parts of seven seasons with the Panthers after being acquired in the Todd Bertuzzi deal with Detroit back in 2007, put the Jets on the board first, deflecting a long shot by Paul Postma past Roberto Luongo 5:03 into the period.
Matthias, 28, left Florida in the second Luongo trade with Vancouver in 2014.
Not long after Matthias’ goal, Florida defenseman Mike Matheson couldn’t handle a bouncing puck deep in the Panthers zone and watched the Jets turn it into a quick goal.
As Matheson lost the puck, Bryan Little swept in and teed up Patrik Laine, who one-timed a shot past Luongo for his 21st of the season.
Florida cut its deficit in half during the final minutes of the period as Greg McKegg — who slid up to the top line from the fourth after Seth Griffith left the game with what Rowe said was a concussion — took full advantage of playing with the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Aaron Ekblad.
The play started when Winnipeg’s Ben Chiarot had his clearing pass at center ice knocked down by Ekblad; Jagr picked up the puck and fed McKegg in transition as he took off and beat Connor Hellebuyck with a wrist shot off his pads.
The assist was No. 1,136 of Jagr’s NHL career, giving him sole possession of fifth place on the NHL’s all-time list as he passed Paul Coffey. Jagr took sole possession of second place on the NHL points list last month.
Winnipeg took the momentum back in the third though when Nik Ehlers whipped a shot off the goal cage and past Luongo 2:46 into the period following a Matheson turnover — and subsequent failure to clear the puck — near the blue line.
Florida again failed to do much to get the Jets off the puck in its own defensive zone later in the period as Mark Scheifele iced it with 7:55 left.
The Panthers had numerous chances against Hellebuyck but, as was the case on Dec. 1, couldn’t get the goals when they needed them against the second-year goalie from Michigan.
“We have to be ready to play every night,” Thornton said, “and I’m not sure we were [Wednesday night].”
The Panthers held a moment of silence before Wednesday’s game in part to honor the memory of Marti Huizenga — the South Florida philanthropist who helped bring the Marlins and Panthers to life alongside billionaire husband H. Wayne Huizenga — who died Tuesday at age 74.
Marti Huizenga helped popularize the throwing of rats onto the ice following goals during Florida’s playoff run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals.
“She hardly ever missed a game,” said an emotional Bill Torrey, who was the first hockey-related hire of the Huizengas after South Florida was awarded an NHL expansion team in 1992.
“She loved the game. The rats were right up Marti’s alley. She would come to the game with a shopping bag full of rats. And she could throw. Everyone was throwing them, and she was an involved player.”
▪ The Columbus Blue Jackets have a chance to tie history on Thursday night as they look for their 17th consecutive victory at Washington.
A victory and the Jackets tie the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins, who currently hold the NHL record for consecutive wins.
Jagr, who scored 10 goals with 24 points for the Penguins during that run, said he is impressed with the Jackets.
Florida was the last team to beat Columbus as the Panthers won 2-1 in a shootout on Nov. 26. It turned out to be the final win of coach Gerard Gallant’s tenure with Florida. He was fired after a loss in Carolina the following night.
“With a streak like that, as long as it is, it’s impressive,” Jagr said. “You have to find extra motivation to play like it’s the playoffs. That’s to their advantage; they treat every game like it’s Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. That’s the way it should be all the time, but with a long schedule, that’s tough to do.
“This streak gives them the extra motivation to beat our streak. They’re a very good team.”
▪ Griffith, playing on Florida’s top line alongside Jagr and Vincent Trocheck, left Wednesday’s game in the first period with a concussion after a hit from Ehlers.
Rowe made no bones about the hit.
“It was a dirty hit, but Ehlers, he deliberately did it,” Rowe said of the blindside hit.
“I don’t care what anyone says. I saw it on video; it’s a dirty hit.”
▪ Colton Sceviour (shoulder) missed his second consecutive game. Florida also sent defenseman Dylan McIlrath to its AHL affiliate in Springfield, Massachusetts, on a conditioning assignment.
▪ Defenseman Keith Yandle played in his 700th career game — including the past 590.
Yandle’s run of 590 consecutive games played is the longest active streak in the NHL and dates to the 2002-03 season while he was with the Coyotes.