SUNRISE, Fla. – The Winnipeg Jets road woes continued Friday night, as they fell in a crucial game against the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers, 2-1. With the loss, the Jets fall to 24-23-6, and five points back of the Panthers. The Panthers are tied in the win column, at 24-15-11, but their overtime and shootout losses help them maintain a three point lead in the division over the Washington Capitals.
It was the 23rd time this season Winnipeg had played in a one-goal game. Winnipeg has scored just six goals since the last time these two teams met in Winnipeg on January 21, when the Jets fell to the Panthers 4-3 in overtime.
“I know, don’t ask me the same dumb question again,” coach Claude Noel said. “‘Are you concerned about the one goal?’ Do I like the one goal we get in a game? No. Would I like to see it changed? Yes. Do I coach that way? No. That’s what we have, but there’s still a way to win the games.
“If we had played the first 20 minutes. There’s the one goal they got, there’s the difference, it’s a 1-1 game and you still have a chance to win. That’s the bottom line for me.”
That first goal came after a weak first period showing. 15:46 into the frame, and on a powerplay, Kris Versteeg wound up and hit a slap shot past Chris Mason to give Florida a 1-0 lead. It was his team-high 20th goal of the season, and put him just two goals shy of his career high. Versteeg, who was out Wednesday with an illness, has had the Jets’ number this season, six goals and adding two assists.
Winnipeg tied the game up in the second,just 30 seconds after Krys Barch and Chris Thorburn fought at center ice. Andrew Ladd corralled a loose puck behind the left faceoff circle, and fed it to Brian Little, who let a weak wrist shot get by Scott Clemmensen to even things up at one 11:29 in. It was Little’s 12th goal of the season.
Three minutes later, at the 14:27 mark, Sean Bergenheim put home what ended up being the winning goal, as Jason Garrison’s wide shot was corralled by Marcel Goc, who let a nifty backhand pass go to the forward, who was all over the ice tonight. He let in a soft wrister from the left crease to give the Panthers the 2-1 lead and victory.
For the Jets, more concerning than scoring is the fact that the Jets fall to 0-9-0 in back ends of back-to-back games, costing them crucial points. The Jets will have four more opportunities to right the ship, including a swing with division rivals Carolina and Tampa Bay at the end of March.
“If you’re going to be a good team, you’re going to have to win these games,” Little said. “We can’t keep using that as an excuse. The whole league has to play back-to-back games, so we have to learn how to.”
Winnipeg will enjoy a day off tomorrow before heading to Montreal to take on the Canadiens on Sunday. The Panthers will see their back to back matchup end as they take on the Lightning tomorrow night.
1. Kris Versteeg (FLA) G
2. Scott Clemmensen (FLA) W, 20 SV
3. Sean Bergenheim (FLA) GWG