The Winnipeg Jets expected a tired tabby Friday night and they weren’t disappointed as they pounced on the Florida Panthers early and, despite a couple of costly mistakes, never let up en route to a 5-2 win.
It was a chance to wash away a disappointing 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres earlier in the week in a game that saw the Jets surrender a 2-0 lead.
“The second game in two nights is never easy, so that start was huge for us,” said Jets forward Blake Wheeler, who scored his 12th goal of the season late in the first period to put the jets ahead 3-1 going into the second.
“I think our group was kind of chomping at the bit to get going again. Any time you have a tough game like we had in Buffalo and then take a couple of days to stew over it, I think you’re almost foaming at the mouth to get back out there.”
Jacob Trouba, Toby Enstrom, Evander Kane and Michael Frolik also scored for the Jets (16-16-5), who hadn’t won a home game since Nov. 15.
Shawn Matthias and Nick Bjugstad scored for the tired-looking Panthers (14-18-5). Both goals were unassisted, and thanks to giveaways by the Jets deep in their own zone.
“We all go through it,” said Florida coach Peter Horachek, who saw his new team’s winning streak capped at five following their 4-2 victory over Ottawa Thursday night.
“It was our back-to-back situation getting in at three in the morning but there’s no excuses.”
Horachek rested Scott Clemmensen, who he said was getting a cold, and tried Jacob Markstrom in goal. Markstrom has had only one win in the 12 games he has played this season while Clemmensen won his last four starts.
“We played back to back and you get in at three in the morning, I think that’s pretty logical,” the coach said of the change.
“We thought it was the perfect opportunity for him (Markstrom) to come in and steal one for us, him being fresh and focused, and obviously it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.”
Matthias scored the first goal of the game when Dustin Byfuglien’s attempt to raise a clearing pass failed and struck the Panthers’ centre instead. Matthias snapped the puck in before Winnipeg’s defenders could move.
Jets coach Claude Noel said he felt everyone on the team played well, which is what he has been preaching but which hasn’t always happened.
“We came out hard,” he said.
“We tried to take advantage of their travel and their second in two nights. I thought there was a lot of emotion in the first period. . . The second period lulled a bit, I thought we played one of our better third periods.”
The Jets also scored two power-play goals in the first and didn’t squander a key five-on-three.
“When you don’t score on those five-on-threes, they have a way of working against you,” said Noel.
Rookie centre Mark Scheifele continued to maintain a point streak that now has stretched five games.
After Matthias scored, Trouba tied the game with a soft tip at 11:06. It looked like Markstrom kicked it into his net with his skate as he scrambled to block it.
The Jets made it 2-1 on a five-on-three as Enstrom fired one from the slot at 15:24 and Wheeler finished off the five-on-four as he deflected Zach Bogosian’s shot past Markstrom just 33 seconds later.
It was Bogosian’s first game since that last home-ice win Nov. 15. He was out with what is thought to have been a groin injury.
Kane flipped in linemate Frolik’s pass to make it 4-1 just 1:03 into the second as the pair grabbed just enough space for a two-on-one.
But Bjugstad narrowed the gap with Florida’s second goal at 5:55 of the second with his wrist shot when he intercepted Kane’s cross-ice pass in front of the Winnipeg net.
Frolik restored the three-goal lead at 17:53 when he snapped in Andrew Ladd’s rebound.
The Kane-Scheifele-Frolik line seems to be clicking well and Frolik said he and Kane make a good pair.
“He reads the game pretty well, kind of the same way that I do, and is a good skater so he can cover up if I’m on the offence too,” said Frolik.
Frolik been one of the team’s most consistent players this season and his nine goals and 12 assists place him sixth on the team scoring list, just ahead of Kane, who has missed nine games due to injury compared with just two for Frolik.
Notes: The piper who opened the game got a round of applause for “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” for the Jets’ last game before the holiday. Besides making their power play work, the Jets shut down Florida as the Panthers went 0-4 on their power-play opportunities Friday.