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Jets Demolish Panthers, Stay in Midst of Playoff Hunt

It wasn’t even fair. The Winnipeg Jets invited the Florida Panthers inside MTS Centre on Thursday night and sent the cats home screaming, whipping the Panthers 7-2 in Winnipeg’s best offensive output of the 2013 season.

The Jets were so good on Thursday that even Aaron Gagnon and Chris Thorburn got into the act. Gagnon opened the scoring with his second NHL goal and his second in as many nights while Thorburn scored the final goal of the game, his second of the year, on a beautiful backhand redirect. In between, the Jets dominated a Florida club that had no right being on the same ice surface as the Jets.

Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom (35) didn't this blast from Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (not pictured). (Photo by Shawn Coates)

Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom (35) didn’t see this blast from Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (not pictured). (Photo by Shawn Coates)

“Do I feel joy? Yes there is joy in my life,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel, who loves to discuss the joy involved in winning hockey games. “How much joy? On a scale of one-to-10? Maybe nine and three-quarters. If we keep winning that joy will grow.”

With the win, the Jets pocketed their third straight victory in the first three games of this six-game homestand. They improved to 21-19-2 on the season and  11-9-0 at home. They also moved into an eighth-place tie with the New York Rangers, although the Rangers have two games in hand.

Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec uses his right pad to make one of his 25 saves on the night. (Photo by Shawn Coates)

Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec uses his right pad to make one of his 25 saves on the night. (Photo by Shawn Coates)

“It was nice to see the guys score some goals but at the same time, they played great defensively,” said Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec who made 25 saves to get the win. “That’s the way you have to play. It was a big one for us. That was a big victory.”

The biggest problem for the Jets last night was that Washington beat Carolina 3-1 to remain four points ahead of the Jets with one game in hand in the race for first in the Southeast Division. The Jets have six games left while Washington has seven. The two teams meet in Washington on April 23.

The Jets don’t play again until next Tuesday night when the Tampa Bay Lightning come to town. The Carolina Hurricanes come to town on April 18, then the New York Islanders will wrap up the homestand on Saturday, April 20. The Jets will go to Buffalo and Washington on April 22 and 23 and then they’ll finish the season against Montreal at MTS Centre on April 25.

Grant Clitsome (24) snaps home his fourth of the year. (Photo by Shawn Coates)

Grant Clitsome (24) snaps home his fourth of the year. (Photo by Shawn Coates)

Regardless of what happens the rest of the month, on Thursday night the Jets were terrific. They led 3-2 after the first and scored three unanswered goals in the second to blow it open. Thorburn wrapped up the scoring in the third and the Jets had their third straight win.

The only disconcerting part of the game came in the first period when the Jets skated the Panthers right into the ice, scored the first goal, outshot Florida 17-9 and yet led by only a 3-2 score.

“It was only 3-2 but I wasn’t worried about it,” said Pavelec. “We were playing so well that I thought we would be fine and when we scored three in the second period I knew we didn’t have a problem.”

Evander Kane (9) scored two goals, including this superb deke of Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom. (Photo by Shawn Coates)

Evander Kane (9) scored two goals, including this superb deke of Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom. (Photo by Shawn Coates)

First star Evander Kane scored twice to lead the Jets while Andrew Ladd had a goal and an assist.  Grant Clitsome scored the fourth goal of the game on a power play. It was the Jets first power play goal in seven games. Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian each had a pair of assists.

The Jets outshot Florida 35-27 and outhit the Panthers 39-27. Winnipeg won 55 per cent of the faceoffs.

“When it’s 6-2 it’s not always easy to play, to keep your head in it, but we kept going hard and I think we sent a message to the fans that we’re going to play hard for the rest of the season,” Pavelec told TSN 1290 radio. “For the first time this year we’re going to have four games off. We’ll go to bed tonight feeling pretty good about ourselves.”

Aaron Gagnon (21) scored his 2nd goal of the year on this deflection. (Photo by Shawn Coates)

Aaron Gagnon (21) scored his second goal of the year on this deflection. (Photo by Shawn Coates)

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