Winnipeg Jets fly past Panthers on home ice

The Winnipeg Jets came out flying on Thursday night, routing the Florida Panthers 7-0 at the MTS Centre.
The Winnipeg Jets' Evander Kane celebrates after scoring on Florida Panthers goalie Jose Theodore during the first period in Winnipeg on Thursday. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

The Winnipeg Jets came out flying on Thursday night, routing the Florida Panthers 7-0 at the MTS Centre.

Ondrej Pavelec made a total of 33 saves to earn the shutout for Winnipeg (31-27-8). Evander Kane scored twice and added two assists, while Kyle Wellwood and Blake Wheeler both had a goal and an assist.

Jim Slater, Bryan Little and Nik Antropov also scored for the Jets.

Some were calling it the biggest game of the year for the Jets: the fifth of six meetings between the two clubs, and the one that would set the stage for the final push to the playoffs.

It was an opportunity for the Jets to loosen the grip Florida had on first place in the Southeast Division.

The Panthers (30-21-12) made the trip to Winnipeg without Kris Versteeg, who is dealing with a nagging lower-body injury. They were looking to earn their fourth win in as many games, their fifth straight road win, and their fourth in a row against the Jets.

Florida goalie Jose Theodore, who was 6-1-1 in his last 10 starts against the Jets, got to start between the pipes. Winnipeg defenceman Zach Bogosian returned to the blue line after missing seven games with an upper-body injury.

Evander Kane opened the scoring for the Jets at the 4:01 mark, intercepting a clearing pass attempt by defenceman Keaton Ellerby. Kane popped a quick shot past Theodore for his 25th goal of the season.

Two minutes and two seconds later, centre Jim Slater took his time with a rebound off of Mark Stuart's shot from the point, netting his ninth goal of the year.

The hometown crowd roared when Pavelec stopped a breakaway by Tomas Fleischmann at the 12:30 mark of the first period. Pavelec got a piece of the puck, which then deflected off of the crossbar.

A second Fleischmann breakaway with 3:25 left in the first was handled easily by Pavelec.

The Jets outshot the Panthers 13-7 in the first period.

Teams struggled in 2nd period

The Panthers showed more life in the second period, as each team traded turnovers and struggled to control the puck.

Zach Bogosian skated past the Panthers' blue line and fired a slapshot from the point at the 9:25 mark that missed the net, following through with a hard check on Erik Gudbranson, upending the six-foot-three Panthers defenceman.

With 2:10 left in the second period, the Jets' Blake Wheeler picked up the puck at centre ice, skated into the Panthers' zone and was flattened by Gudbranson.

The Panthers outshot the Jets 17-8 in the scoreless second period.

But the Jets really came out flying in the third period, starting when Evander Kane carried the puck up the left boards and shot the puck, which bounced off Theodore.

Mark Stuart picked up the rebound and took a shot that changed direction twice, hit Kyle Wellwood and got past Theodore at 1:49.

Two minutes and 46 seconds later, the Jets scored on a remarkable five-on-one that saw Bryan Little score his 19th goal of the season from Blake Wheeler and Randy Jones, earning a standing ovation from the capacity crowd and ending Theodore's night at net.

Scott Clemmensen replaced Theodore in goal but he saw no mercy from the Jets. Nik Antropov scored his 10th goal of the season, jamming the puck through Clemmensen's pads after the goalie stopped a point shot from Zach Bogosian.

Twelve seconds later, as Antropov's goal was being announced, Evander Kane scored his team-leading 26th goal — and his second goal of the night — making the score 6-0 and sending the fans into a frenzy.

Wheeler netted the game's final marker at 17:58 as Winnipeg tied a franchise record for single-period goals with five in the third.

Florida has won three of five meetings with the Jets this season. They play once more in Florida.

Winnipeg is now (4-1-2) in an eight-game homestand, while Florida had a four-game road-winning streak end.

With files from The Canadian Press