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Slow Start Dooms Florida Panthers in Winnipeg

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Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, pictured here against the Islanders in April, returned to action in the second period of what turned out to be a 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Florida Panthers got off to a slow start Tuesday night and could not “win one for Mo’’ as Zac Dalpe said as Paul Maurice’s return to Winnipeg ended with a 5-2 loss.

After Carter Verhaeghe tied the score with 5:32 left in the first, Winnipeg scored its second goal within a span of 68 seconds before expanding its lead to two goals early in the second.

Maurice, who was celebrated with assistant coach Jamie Kompon with a video tribute, decided that was enough for Spencer Knight as Sergei Bobrovsky came in to play for the first time in a week.

“Spencer has had a good run but it was not happening for him tonight,” Maurice said. “He has been good for us … He played enough for us.”

Playing without top centers Sasha Barkov and Anton Lundell as well as veterans Patric Hornqvist and Radko Gudas, the Panthers could not get much going to start the game.

The Jets doubled the Panthers in shots — and goals — in the first period as Florida’s AHL reinforcements were still getting settled in.

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Winnipeg, meanwhile, ended up getting great games from its stars as both Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor scored twice and goalie Connor Hellebuyck made 38 saves.

The Panthers started this five-game trip with a pair of losses, won in Vancouver and Seattle and now come home with five of the available 10 points.

”We didn’t have the legs, mostly,” Maurice said. “We did not have the puck a whole lot. We were behind it about six inches — not from the hearts or in the minds but in the legs. Our sticks were little off the game and we got behind it a bit.

“We put up 25 (shots) in the second and we were still chasing them. It was tough on them.”

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Tied at 1 off Verheagehe’s power-play goal, Connor got his first of the night to give the Jets a lead they would not surrender.

In the opening period, the Panthers not only got outshot 14-7, but Winnipeg had a 29-12 edge in attempted shots.

Connor got his second 1:43 into the second period, beating Knight blocker side with Maurice pulling him from the game.

It was the first time Knight had gotten the hook all season — and it was as much to get Bobrovsky back into net as was to try and turn the momentum of the game.

It seemed to work.

Bobrovsky, who has been struggling, stopped 14 of the 15 shots he faced in the remaining 38:13 of game time he played to help keep the Panthers in it.

It was a much-needed confidence boost for the veteran netminder who started the season with a 4-6-1 record and a .878/3.84.

”Sergei needed a good feeling in our net,” Maurice said. “I thought he was really good, solid. So that’s a good positive for us, get him back feeling good.”

Florida played inspired hockey in front of Bobrovsky — outshooting Winnipeg 31-16 after his arrival into the game — but the Jets sealed it with an empty netter from Adam Lowry with 3:01 remaining.

The Panthers had a strong game 5-on-5, but the Jets made quick work of them on special teams and that was the difference.

Florida finished the night 1-for-4 on the power play after getting three straight opportunities on the man-advantage late in the second and bleeding into the third.

They could not capitalize as Hellebuyck stopped all five shots he faced on the three power plays while the Jets penalty kill was able to keep the Panthers to the perimeter.

Florida scored its lone power play goal of the night off a Verhaeghe shot from the faceoff circle.

Winnipeg, meanwhile, went 2-of-4 with the advantage, with Scheifele cashing in twice to score Winnipeg’s first of the night as well as the lone goal on Bobrovsky which pretty much sealed the Panthers’ fate.

Dalpe scored on a feed from Chris Tierney to bring Florida back within two goals with 10:58 to go, but Hellebuyck held strong as the Jets endured a barrage of Panthers shots to earn the win.

“I thought we did a lot of good things,’’ said Dalpe, who scored his first NHL goal since April 19, 2021 against the Panthers while a member of the Blue Jackets.

“We started putting pressure on (Hellebuyck) and started to roll a bit. But you have to give it to him: He’s a good goalie.”

The Panthers will fly home on Wednesday morning and will play a Detroit team which is coming off a 4-2 win in Tampa.

Florida could have both Barkov and Lundell back in the lineup which should give the team a boost.

COLBY’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME

1. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg (38 saves, win)

2. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg (2 goals, assist)

3. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg (2 goals)

PANTHERS ON DECK

DETROIT RED WINGS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS 

  • When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise 
  • Streaming ONLY: ESPN+/Hulu
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • Last season: Florida won 4-0
  • All-time regular season series: Florida leads 33-19-6, 5 ties

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