By Bill Whitehead
SUNRISE — If only the Florida Panthers could face Winnipeg more often.
Florida’s Shawn Matthias, Jonathan Huberdeau and Mike Santorelli scored highlight-reel goals, rookie goaltender Jacob Markstrom was strong in his third start, and Tomas Kopecky continued to find the net in the Panthers’ 4-1 win over the Jets in front of 14,574 fans at BB&T Center on Tuesday.
Tied at 1-1 after Kyle Wellwood’s first goal following a defensive breakdown, Matthias took a pass from Colby Robak and led a rush through the center of the ice. He faked the Jets’ Mark Stuart inside, slid the puck through the defenseman’s legs and went outside with a one-handed pass and gathered himself to whip a shot over goalkeeper Ondrej Pavelec’s glove at 9:55 of the second period.
“(I thought)’My buddy’s are going to see this on SportsCenter,'” Matthias said of his fifth goal, the game-winner. Robak collected his first NHL point on the play, while Tomas Fleischmann added his second assist.
Huberdeau batted down a pass from Peter Mueller and was brought down by Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien on a breakaway five minutes later. The Quebec native then tallied his team-leading 11th goal by roofing his penalty shot over Pavelec, becoming the first player in franchise history to score twice on penalty shots in a season. He beat Ilya Bryzgalov at Philadelphia in Florida’s 5-2 win over the Flyers on Feb. 21.
“(Pavelec’s) a great goalie. I skate with him in the summer, too. It worked out well,” said Huberdeau, who is 2-for-2 in penalty shots while the rest of the NHL is a combined 2-for-14.
“The guys stepped up. I was really happy with that. It’s what we needed. We don’t want to sit down (with the lead). We want to put more goals on the board and keep going and going.”
Santorelli scored 3:43 in the third when he waited patiently for Pavelec to skate out of position then stuffed home his first goal of the season. Tomas Kopecky opened the scoring for Florida in the first period with a blistering slap shot at 5:07.
Kopecky, coming off a hat trick last week against Pittsburgh, scored his fifth in six games to open the scoring for Florida (7-11-5). On a 3-on-2 rush, Marcel Goc used his right skate to control a feed from Fleischmann. His pass to Kopecky was then one-timed by the winger for his ninth goal. Kopecky had 10 goals in his first season with the Panthers, and his career-high was 15 for Chicago in the 2010-2011 season.
Markstrom was recalled Sunday when starter Jose Theodore was hurt in Carolina the night before. The Swedish netminder stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced and benefited from a solid defensive effort by his teammates, allowing just 13 shots in the first two periods and not committing a penalty the entire game. Against Pittsburgh and Boston earlier this month, Markstrom played well but gave up three goals in both of the losses.
Markstrom’s post-game comments:
Under the NHL’s new alignment proposal, Winnipeg would not only not be in Florida’s division next year, the club would also move to the Western Conference due to its locale. Florida beat the Jets for the second time in three meetings, the only setback a 3-2 overtime loss in Manitoba. Winnipeg (10-11-1) travels to Tampa Bay for a game Thursday with the Lightning then returns to face the Panthers for the last time in South Florida on Friday.
Earlier in the day, Florida announced that center Stephen Weiss had been lost for the season with a wrist injury and will require surgery next week. Weiss, an unrestricted free agent, was drafted by Florida in 2001 and has spent his whole career with the club.