SUNRISE, Fla. — One can almost always tell the outcome of a game by the state of a dressing room and Tuesday night, the Winnipeg Jets’ quarters were silent and near-empty when the door opened to let the press flock in.
No music, no laughing and almost no players. The Jets put forth perhaps their worst effort of the season, falling 4-1 to the Florida Panthers. Winnipeg seemed lost from the outset and although they briefly tied the affair in the second period, it was really only a mirage. This was Florida’s game from post to post.
The loss drops the Jets to 10-11-1 and damages their playoff hopes for the time being. Winnipeg is now six points back of the Southeast Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes and three back of eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.
❚ The Panthers entered the game reeling from injuries and had eight players in the lineup who had seen time in the AHL at one point or another this season.
"We were outplayed and it looked like their group was a little hungrier and more determined than us," said Jets winger Blake Wheeler. "We were trying to feel the game out and hoping it would just go in our favour and they came out strong and we weren’t able to respond.
The Panthers opened the scoring as Tomas Kopecky took a pass almost at the side boards and whipped a shot that fooled Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
"It’s hard to explain. It was a disheartened effort. We didn’t have any jam. Expecting to win a game doesn’t mean you’re going to do it," said Wheeler.
❚ Veteran Kyle Wellwood came out of the intermission with some life and quickly erased Florida’s lead as he whipped a wrist shot past Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom.
But the Jets gave up two more goals in the second frame, one on a penalty shot to super-rookie Jonathan Huberdeau and another to Shawn Matthias.
❚ The final frame was more of the same as the listless Jets failed to mount any charge. Florida padded its lead to 4-1 as journeyman Mike Santorelli scored his first of the season.
"We have to work on turning the page. We can’t dwell on it," said Wheeler. "We need to learn from it. We can’t let it fester. That won’t help. We battle hard to get to .500 and then maybe we feel a little content. But that’s not the right mindset.
❚ Panthers coach Kevin Dineen on his team’s effort:
"I felt like we had a lot of energy tonight. We worked from the start of the game to the finish and just the intangibles. It’s not like we’re changing a heck of a lot. But the margin of error between winning and losing is so small. The effort and the intensity we’re getting out of the top to the bottom of the lineup makes a difference."
❚ Dineen on what impresses him about Huberdeau:
"It’s not the penalty-shot goal, although that was a heck of a nice shot, but it’s the effort and moving his feet and fighting that guy off to create that penalty shot"