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Recap: Panthers Finnish strong, topple Jets 4-2 in Helsinki

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Luongo backstops Cats to first win in regulation of the season

NHL: Florida Panthers at Winnipeg Jets James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers earned just their third win of the season in their 11th try, over the Winnipeg Jets in Helsinki, Finland on Friday afternoon.

It wasn’t afternoon for the two hockey clubs, but 8 p.m. locally in Hartwall Arena. The Panthers were trying to avoid another three game losing-streak. Although the Cats have earned points in over half of their games, they currently rank 30th in the 31-team National Hockey League with only nine points. Only the Los Angeles Kings, with seven, have less.

But this could mean the start of something, right? My Panthers chat group is always saying how “this team is so much better than their record.” Is that just so much hyperbole or may there actually be something to it? A few encouraging signs in Helsinki point firmly to “maybe.”

Maybe it all boiled down to getting future slam-dunk first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Roberto Luongo back in the crease, a game sooner than we had all thought. I mean, dude is gonna be 40 before the season ends, but he’s clearly the best goaltender we have on the payroll right now. James Reimer is a fine number two netminder, but is not ready to be the featured stopper on an NHL team, nor will he ever be. Will the Panthers be in trouble when he eventually retires? That’s a problem for “Future Viola.” Right now, backstopped by Luongo, the Panthers stand a chance. Now, the road is clearly uphill, but they’ve seen this before. After beginning the 2017-18 campaign with a sad-sack 19-22-6 record, the Florida Panthers rebounded to go 25-8-2 down the stretch.

But enough about that. On Friday afternoon (night), the Florida Panthers showed what they’re capable of against a top-tier NHL club.

First Period

Nikolaj Ehlers (2) opened the scoring with nine minutes passed in the first period, off his own rebound. Ehlers had broken away into the Panthers zone, dogged by defenseman Aaron Ekblad, and wristed one at Luongo. After the shot bounced off our man, Ehlers smacked the rebound home. An assist was awarded to Blake Wheeler.

Florida’s much-maligned power play came through in the clutch at the 14:29 mark. Keith Yandle unleashed a hard slap shot from the point at Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck. Just before getting to the net, Evgeni Dadonov (6) redirected the puck for his sixth goal of the season.

Patrick Laine (7) reestablished the one-goal Winnipeg lead with three minutes left in the first period. Laine fired from the left point to beat Luongo on the stick side and give the Jets the 2-1 advantage. Luckily for the Cats, it was the last Jets lead of the contest.

Second Period

Mike Hoffman wired a shot high on the glove side of Hellebuyck for his sixth marker of the season to tie the game at two with five minutes gone in the second. Assisted by Mike Matheson and Nick Bjugstad, the man-advantage goal made the Panthers two-for-two in the game on the power play.

Near the end of the period, there was a high-sticking incident by Brendan Lemieux against Troy Brouwer. Lemieux then threw down against MacKenzie Weegar, but the Panthers emerged with a five-minute power play.

The Jets killed the man-advantage effectively for the first four-and-a-half minutes, and good for them. Keith Yandle directed a seeing-eye puck through heavy traffic for a 3-2 lead with less than a minute remaining in the second. Jonathan Huberdeau and Dadonov were credited with assists on the play.

Third Period

Frank Vatrano (4) closed the door on the scoring with eight minutes remaining in regulation. Huberdeau broke into the Winnipeg zone ahead of the defense, but instead of trying to beat Hellebuyck, he drop-passed it to trailing Frank Vatrano (4), who fired it home for a two-goal lead.

A Few Other Things

The Jets outshot the Panthers, 34-to-26, and Luongo stopped 32 of them for an in-game .941 save percentage and the victory. It was Luongo’s 472nd career win, which ranks fourth on the all-time list behind Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, and Ed Belfour.

Florida’s Power Play was seven-for-45 coming in, in the bottom echelon of the NHL with a 15.6 percent success rate. This afternoon, they went three-for-five to improve to 20 percent for the season, 18th in the league. They were also unsuccessful in killing the only Jets power play of the game. They’re now next-to-last in the league with a 68.4 percent success rate at killing penalties.

Alex Petrovic dished out four hits to lead the Cats, who outhit the Jets 18-to-14 overall. Juho Lammikko collected three in the game.

VIDEO RECAP (courtesy of NHL.com)