By Aaron Kusher – Special to Inside Hockey:
SUNRISE, Fla. - Friday night the Florida Panthers took to their home ice to try and create some separation between themselves and the rest of their Southeast Division foes by welcoming in the red hot Jets of Winnipeg. The Jets took the ice Friday night winners of their last two both road victories coming Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers, a 2-1 shoot-out win and then Thursday night defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning also by the score of 2-1 that game ending in overtime.
The tone of the game was set early by Winnipeg, as they dictated that if the Panthers were going to win this one they were going to have to put their bodies on the line. The Jets came out hitting hard, but that lead to many offensive opportunities for the Panthers who outshot the Jets 10-6 in the first frame. The lone goal scored 15:46 in to the first period was produced by Kris Versteeg (20) on the power play. The assists were credited to Mikael Samuelsson and Brian Campbell. The panthers gained the odd man advantage when Winnipeg’s Alexander Burmistrov was called for slashing. As the first period wore down, Winnipeg never let up with their hitting, leading to a tie up in the Jets’ zone between Jets’ defender Zach Bogosian and Panther’s winger Sean Bergenheim. Bergenheim was called with roughing penalty despite on replay it appeared he committed no foul.
As the second period got underway it was more of the same, Winnipeg continually attacked the Panthers with hit after hit, in attempts to slow down Florida’s offense. All the physicality led to Alexander Burmistrov making his second trip to sin bin, as he was called for boarding for checking Kris Versteeg into the unforgiving concrete barrier. This enforcer mentality seemed to pay off for the Jets as 11:29 in to the second Bryan Little gained his 12 goal of the season beating Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen. Little was assisted by Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd on the goal. No less than a minute and a half after Little’s goal, Panthers Krystofer Barch and Jets Chris Thorburn dropped the gloves off of a face off. With 6:33 to go in the second Sean Bergenheim beat Jets goalie Chris Mason to put the Cats up 2-1, and end up being the game winner.
As the third period got under way it saw a transformation of the two teams. It was the Panthers coming out as the aggressor, and the Jets focusing on offensive production through turnovers and set ups. The production by both teams in the third led to the Panthers finishing the game even with the Jets in hits 24 a piece, and allowed Winnipeg to close the gap of shots on goal 21 for the Jets 30 for the Panthers.
The victory helps create some separation for the Panthers in what was heading into the All-Star break a much cluttered division. Florida now sits in sole possession of first place three points ahead of the Washington Capitals, and five points ahead of tonight’s opponent the Winnipeg Jets.
The Panthers next game is Saturday night versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.
When Panthers Coach Kevin Dineen was asked if he would be giving his goalie Scott Clemmensen a rest against their interstate foes, coach Dineen replied “No, I don’t think so. Scotty is red hot right now, so we’ll start him.”
Tonight’s Three Stars
1 FLA R 32 Kris Versteeg
2 FLA G 30 Scott Clemmensen
3 FLA L 20 Sean Bergenheim