The Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets are no longer division rivals but you never would have known it Friday night.
More than a decade of familiarity in the Southeast Division bred plenty of contempt that carried through to the Jets’ move to the Western Conference this season — and to a 5-2 Jets win in front of a sold-out crowd at the MTS Center.
The loss snapped the Panthers’ five-game winning streak and dropped their record to 14-18-5. The Jets improved to 16-16-5.
After playing three consecutive opponents coming off road games the night before — Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto — and winning all three, the Panthers were on the other side of the schedule maker on this night, having arrived in town at 3 a.m. local time after beating the Senators 4-2 on Thursday.
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Despite registering only a single shot by the middle of the opening period, the Panthers opened the scoring at 7:45 when a giveaway by Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien down low put the puck on the stick of center Shawn Matthias, who snapped a shot past Ondrej Pavelec. It was just their second shot of the game.
Jets rookie defenseman Jacob Trouba tied the score at 11:06 when he left his point position and darted through a lane in the Panthers’ end and his backhand deflected off Panthers defenseman Tom Gilbert past goalie Jacob Markstrom.
The two teams combined for 28 minutes in penalties in the first period but the final two infractions — Dmitry Kulikov for interference at 14:02 and Marcel Goc for high-sticking just 24 seconds later — proved costly.
Jets defenseman Toby Enstrom’s one-timer at 15:24 with the two-man advantage gave the Jets a 2-1 lead and right winger Blake Wheeler’s deflection off a Zach Bogosian slap shot less than 30 seconds later extended it to 3-1.
The Jets’ suddenly potent power play entered the game 27th in the NHL with a proficiency rating of 13.2 percent.
Jets right winger Evander Kane put the Jets up 4-1 just 63 seconds into the second period when he kicked a pass from Michael Frolik off his left skate and converted a 2-on-1 break.
Another Jets’ giveaway — this one a pass across the middle by Kane — led to the Panthers’ second goal by center Nick Bjugstad at 5:55 when he wristed a shot past Pavelec.
The Jets reestablished a three-goal lead at 17:53 when Frolik converted a rebound from Jets captain Andrew Ladd.
Longtime Panthers captain Olli Jokinen, who joined the Jets prior to the 2012-13 season, was held off the scoresheet.
The rough stuff started early. Panthers right winger Krystofer Barch dropped the gloves with Jets right winger Chris Thorburn at 2:33 of the first period.
Panthers right winger Scottie Upshall was whistled for embellishment after taking a shot from Kane at 8:37.
They continued their battle throughout the game and nearly came to blows in the waning seconds of the third period.
This was the 81st meeting between the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchise and the Panthers, and dropped the Panthers’ record to 32-32-5-12 in the series.
The Panthers won the first meeting of the season Dec. 5, when they defeated the Jets 5-2 at the BB&T Center.
The Panthers will spend the night in Winnipeg and return home Saturday for a five-game homestand. They’ll face the cross-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday.