WINNIPEG -- When the Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets met last week in South Florida, the Panthers overtook the Jets in the third period to snap a losing streak. In the return engagement, Winnipeg repaid the favor.
The Jets overcame two deficits before scoring a power-play goal with 15.2 seconds left in overtime to beat the Panthers 3-2 Tuesday night at MTS Centre and snap a three-game losing streak. Winnipeg's Evander Kane forced Panthers defenseman Filip Kuba to take him down during a rush with 2:10 left in overtime. After a slow start on the man-advantage, Winnipeg's Bryan Little took a feed from Zach Redmond, moved into the high slot and ripped a glove-side shot high past Florida goaltender Scott Clemmensen.
"We had trouble getting it in deep," Little said of a Winnipeg power play that had struggled to organize itself in overtime. "It's nice to win after a tough road trip but it would have been nice to get the two points clean. I think it was a pretty sloppy game, but you know two [points are] better than nothing, so I think we're pretty happy with that."
The loss spoiled another solid outing from Huberdeau.
"It could have gone either way, I think," Huberdeau said. "They worked really hard, they weren't playing [well] lately, and I think it was good for them."
In winning back-to-back games after a 1-5-0 start, the Panthers had shown a knack for erasing deficits. Florida scored five goals in the third period against Winnipeg last Thursday and wiped out two one-goal deficits on the way to a 6-3 victory at the BB&T Center. The Panthers then overcame a 3-1 deficit to win 4-3 at Buffalo on Sunday. Surrendering two leads disappointed Panthers coach Kevin Dineen.
"We're not satisfied," Dineen said. "We felt we could have gotten the two points in here. We did a lot of good things, but fatigue played a little bit into a few mistakes that happened, specifically on that [Little] goal. That's what happens when you keep on going to the same guys. That's a tough long two minutes after [more than] 60 minutes of hockey."
The Jets (4-4-1) limited Kris Versteeg, who began the game with eight goals in his previous six games against the Winnipeg franchise, to one assist. Meanwhile, Winnipeg countered with goals from Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart. Ondrej Pavelec made his eighth start in Winnipeg's first nine games and made 17 saves. Little and Wheeler both hit the 200-point mark in their careers.
"It wasn't the most exciting game I've ever played in," Wheeler acknowledged, "but that doesn't matter. As ugly as it was, they don't ask how -- they ask how many at the end of the season. Confidence probably isn't the highest it has ever been in this room. But at the end of the day, you need to get the wins. When you get the wins, morale builds."
A three-game road trip last week had dampened a promising 3-1-1 for the Jets. A blown lead at Montreal and an 8-3 thrashing from Tampa Bay sandwiched the Jets' meltdown on the road against the Panthers last Thursday. In making do without injured defensive anchors Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien, the Jets surrendered eight power-play goals in 16 shorthanded situations in the three losses, but held Florida scoreless on two man-advantages back on Winnipeg ice.
"It was a little bit of a struggle there," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "Other than that, we're happy that we got the two points. It's a very heavy load off our shoulders. I think [the losing streak] wore on our players. I think it put a heavy toll on us."
"We gave them one point, but it was a big two points for us," Noel said. "This is a hard game to judge. A lot of that is the grind. For us, we're going to focus on grabbing the two points."
Noel and Dineen both agreed that late-game fatigue affected their clubs. The teams' uneven starts to the 48-game season and a Southeast Division matchup made for some desperate late-game hockey, especially in overtime.
"I think we all – coaches and players across the League – are a priority on every single game," Dineen said.
Two Panthers rookies combined to open the scoring with 1:48 left in the period. Having notched his first professional point on Sunday against the Sabres, Drew Shore danced around Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom and put a shot on net. Pavelec kicked the puck right to Huberdeau, who pounded home the rebound for a 1-0 lead. Huberdeau's tally marked the seventh time in nine games that the Jets have allowed the first goal.
Florida outshot Winnipeg 7-3 in the opening period, and the Jets did not manage a shot against Clemmensen until 5:08 remained.
"I didn't see the fatigue so much in the first [period]," Noel said. "I saw a lot of nervousness. We looked like we had never been together. It was really difficult to watch us play in the first."
While Florida frustrated Winnipeg in the first period, they were unable to contain a Winnipeg team desperate to reverse its slumping fortunes. Winnipeg outshot the Panthers 14-5 in a second period in which the hosts overcame two Florida leads.
"That has been one issue with our game – our level of consistency that we have to keep from shift to shift, period to period, and game to game," Dineen said. "We're heading in the right direction, but we're not there yet."
The Jets came out with a much stronger effort in the second and tied the game 2:28 into the period. Enstrom hit Wheeler with a long outlet pass to the Florida blue line. Wheeler stepped over the line and fired a far-side shot from the right boards that beat Clemmensen. Enstrom's assist gave him a career-best seven-game point streak over which he has posted a pair of goals to go with nine assists.
Clemmensen returned to action for Florida for the first time since Jan. 26 when he allowed four goals in a 7-1 home loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
"I thought he was [OK]," Dineen said of Clemmensen. "I would have liked to have [Winnipeg's first goal] back."
The Panthers regained the lead 1:24 later. Fleischmann, the Panthers' leading scorer who had three assists when the teams met last Thursday, fired a screened wrist shot past Pavelec.
The Jets received an unlikely offensive contribution from Stuart that tied the game midway through the middle period. Stuart sent a long left-point shot that skidded through Clemmensen's pads for a 2-2 game that set up overtime after a scoreless third period. The goal halted Stuart's 65-game run without a goal that dated to Dec. 3, 2011. Redmond, taking the place of Byfuglien on the Winnipeg blue line, picked up his first career NHL point.
"Huge win," said Pavelec, who settled down after a shaky start. "It wasn't an easy game for us. I think we deserved to win."