Florida Panthers

Big hit fuels Florida Panthers’ fire in win over Jets

A big hit can go a long way.

Thursday, Florida’s Erik Gudbranson crushed Winnipeg’s Tobias Enstrom to get the Panthers going in a rousing 5-2 win over the Jets at BB&T Center.

Gudbranson’s hit led to a rush up the ice with Dylan Olsen scoring and giving the Panthers their first lead — one that stood as the Panthers snapped a three-game slide as they scored four-plus goals for just the fourth time all season.

“It was a good goal but we had to refocus to get that win,” said Olsen, who got his first NHL goal moments after Gudbranson got fans on their feet with his heavy shoulder drop of Enstrom.

“We knew we had to win every battle, everyone had to contribute.”

The Panthers, who lost rookie Aleksander Barkov to an undisclosed lower body injury in the third, needed a shot of momentum after being outscored 14-5 in their three losses and fell behind 1-0 on Thursday.

Winnipeg took the initial lead off Andrew Ladd’s goal six minutes in, but the Panthers tied it when Gudbranson let one fly from 45 feet away with 5:58 left in the first.

Early in the second, Gudbranson hit Enstrom behind the net. Olsen picked up a loose puck and started the rush up the ice by tossing it to Scottie Upshall. Upshall returned the favor as Olsen slid into the slot and fired the puck past Ondrej Pavelec.

“I didn’t see the hit, but I heard it,” Upshall said. “Everyone in the building heard it.”

Said Gudbranson: “I just saw an opportunity to finish my check. We were lucky there was a 12-car pileup behind the net and [Olsen] took off.”

The Panthers led 3-1 going into the third as Tomas Fleischmann got his first goal in 15 games off a rebound from Mike Weaver. Nick Bjugstad made it 4-1 in the third on a strong wraparound following Florida’s first power play of the night.

The Jets cut their deficit in half when former Panthers captain Olli Jokinen, who still lives in Broward, beat Tim Thomas with 7:15 left.

Yet the Panthers kept scoring, with Jimmy Hayes — who came to town with Olsen in the Kris Versteeg deal —scored on a breakaway with 2:44 left.

“It showed [Thursday] that if you’re not ready to battle and ready to play you’re not going to win,” said Jokinen, who turned 35 on Thursday. “It was pretty evident. We turned the puck over, they got goals off turnovers.”


Thursday was another in Florida’s string of so-called ‘Reunion Games’ with Jokinen and Keaton Ellerby coming back to Sunrise.

Michael Frolik, Florida’s first-round pick in 2006, was ill and out of the Jets’ lineup.

Florida visit Stephen Weiss in Detroit on Saturday and Versteeg in Chicago on Sunday.

Weiss, who spent a decade with the Panthers, returns for the first time since leaving as a free agent on Tuesday.

Sharing a first

Thursday’s game was the first matchup between the Panthers and Winnipeg franchise that wasn’t a divisional game.

The Atlanta Thrashers were placed in the Southeast Division when it entered the league in 1999 and remained there when the team moved to Winnipeg in 2011.

The Jets were relocated to the Western Conference this season.

“It’s strange not having them in the division,’’ Scott Clemmensen said, “but it was really strange having Winnipeg in the Southeast Division the past few years.’’

This and that

• Tomas Kopecky (elbow) and Dmitry Kulikov (benched) were back in the lineup. Kopecky had been out the previous five games.

• Coach Peter Horachek said he didn’t have an update on Barkov’s injury following the game but a team spokesman sent a text saying the second-overall pick in 2013 was “expected to be OK.”

Related stories from Miami Herald