Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec kept things in check until defenceman Dustin Byfuglien was ready to take over the game.
That was the recipe for success used Friday night by the Jets, who beat the Florida Panthers, 3-2, on Byfuglien’s goal with just 40.5 seconds left in overtime at the BB&T Center.
The win avenged a 4-1 loss suffered by the Jets here on Tuesday night and also pushed Winnipeg up to 25 points, which is just one point behind the New York Rangers for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
“I thought our goaltender was our best player,” Jets coach Claude Noel said of Pavelec, who made 38 saves Friday night. “I don’t think we managed the game great. Our first three penalties were in the offensive zone, which didn’t help us out. But we found a way to get a win.”
A lot of that had to do with Byfuglien, the 6-foot-5, 265-pounder who put the Jets on his sizable back in overtime.
In fact, Noel said he could sense something big was coming from Byfuglien even before OT.
“You could tell on the bench he was pretty fired up the last 10 minutes to get this back on track,” Noel said. “He has that ability. Those guys are hard to find. He makes a toe drag in the slot, holds on, holds on, and it’s in the net. That’s what he can do.
“I think you have to allow guys like that to do that. It’s four-on-four. There’s a lot of ice. You want him to be a difference-maker. I certainly wouldn’t want to hold him back, and neither would his teammates.”
Jets defenseman Mark Stuart gave kudos to Pavelec but also praised Byfuglien.
“He’s so big and strong,” Stuart said of Byfuglien. “He’s so good at protecting the puck. He was able to get around a few guys, and when he has time to shoot, he is pretty deadly.”
Byfuglien said he was just trying to make a play.
“The rebound came back, and I found myself one-on-one with the goalie,” he said. “Playing four-on-four, it gives the D-men a little more room to roam around a little bit. That’s something I enjoy.”
It was not enjoyable to the Panthers, who are last in the Eastern Conference and were in desperate need of that extra point.
The Panthers were coming off a 7-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday in which goalie Jacob Markstrom was pulled after allowing goals on the first two shots he faced. Friday night was the same story.
This time, the Jets scored on their first shot, with Andrew Ladd beating Markstrom for his 13th goal of the season. Ladd took a feed from winger Bryan Little and sped down the left wing, scoring on a puck that barely crossed the line.
With the loss after regulation, Florida ended a five-game stretch of divisional games, getting only three out of a possible 10 points.
The best news for the Panthers was the return of winger Kris Versteeg, who had missed 12 games due to an upper-body injury.
“’Steeger’ has been missed,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said an hour before Friday’s game. “He’s been out a long time. But he’s had a lot of time to condition over the past two weeks.”
Still, Versteeg’s return wasn’t enough to stop the Jets, who got a second score with 17:48 gone in the first period on a goal by Clint Wheeler from 25 feet. Ladd got the assist, but Wheeler deserves the bulk of the credit, patiently holding on to the puck until he saw an opening.
Panthers’ rookie Jonathan Huberdeau scored with 12.9 seconds left in the first quarter to cut Florida’s deficit to 2-1. The puck barely crossed the line but -- much like Ladd’s opening marker -- the play survived an official review.
The Panthers tied the score with 5:50 gone in the third period, when Tomas Kopecky stole the puck and fed a pass to Shawn Matthias, who buried his sixth goal of the season.
After Friday’s game, Dineen seemed upbeat when asked about Markstrom, who recovered from his poor start to make 25 saves.
“[Goalie coach] Robb Tallas and I will spend some time with ‘Markie’, and there’s lots of areas [of his game] that we can talk about,” Dineen said. “But at the end of the day, he gave us a pretty solid chance to win.”
Notes: With team captain Ed Jovanovski and alternate captain Stephen Weiss out with injuries, Dineen has made some changes. Forwards Kopecky and Tomas Fleischmann are now alternate captains. Defenseman Brian Campbell’s status as alternate captain is unchanged. ... Entering Friday, the Panthers’ starting goalie has failed to last past the second period in four of the past five games. The most recent example was on Thursday, when Markstrom was replaced after allowing two goals on the first two Capitals shots. His replacement, Scott Clemmensen, wasn’t very good, either, allowing five goals the rest of the way. ... The Jets, meanwhile, feel fortunate to have Al Montoya as their backup goalie. He is 3-0 with a 2.33 goals-against average. ... Montoya played so well Thursday that a columnist for the Winnipeg called for him to start Friday against the Panthers -- to no avail. ... The Jets close their four-game road trip Sunday in New Jersey. The Jets return home Tuesday to play Toronto. ... Up next for the Panthers is a home game Sunday against Montreal.
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