The NHL Global Series brought tons of excitement for international fans since its inception, and this year was no different. Hockey fans in Helsinki, Finland experienced two games between the Winnipeg Jets and Florida Panthers this year. After the first game in the Global Series went to Winnipeg by a score of 4 to 2, the teams reset for an immediate rematch one day later.
Fans once again came out in droves to support the NHL and the players representing Finland on each roster. Tonight’s game, another entertaining one, ended as a 4-2 win for the Panthers.
Cats 4 – Jets 2
The biggest pre-game story came out of the Panthers locker room when it was announced starter Roberto Luongo would play. He missed every game since opening night for Florida after sustaining a Grade One MCL sprain.
“I consider this a character thing for [Luongo],” said Panthers head coach Bob Boughner in his pregame interview. “He could easily just wait another week and get home and get rested. But he’s a guy that sees what we’re going through and he’s a guy that wants to make a difference.” The Panthers are 2-5-3 this year without Luongo.
Period One: Laine Continues Dominating in Finland
A strong start for the Jets gave them a 1-0 lead, as Nikolaj Ehlers fired a rebound past Luongo after recovering his own rebound on a breakaway opportunity. The Panthers clawed back with a powerplay goal to even things up. Extending his streak to eight games, Evgeni Dadonov deflected a Keith Yandle point shot past Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck.
It appears Patrik Laine is back to his scoring ways, as he found twine again on the power play late in the first. This restored Winnipeg’s lead and ended the period 2-1 in their favour. Laine entered the Global Series with just three goals on the season in 13 games. He’s more than doubled that total, as the first-period tally was his fourth in Helsinki after last night’s hat trick performance. They outshot Florida 14-10 in the frame as well.
Period Two: Florida Finds its Footing
Whatever was said between periods in the locker room got the Cats fired up, as they came out flying in the second period. The Panthers outshot Winnipeg 8-1 in the first half of the period, dominating the game in that stretch. They broke through on the power play again, from Mike Hoffman, to draw the game at two apiece. Hoffman extended his point streak to nine games with the tally as well.
Yandle piped a slapshot into the Jets net, again on the power play, with just 30 seconds remaining in the period. This gave the Panthers their first lead of the night, and of the Global Series. Furthermore, the powerplay woes that they’ve faced all year seemed to lift, as Florida found itself three-for-three on opportunities today. They outshot Winnipeg 12-3 in the middle frame too.
Period Three: Panthers Hang on
Winnipeg mounted a surge in the third, but could not solve Luongo. They fired 17 shots with no goals scored in the final frame. On the other hand, Florida potted one more for insurance, when Jonathan Huberdeau surprised everyone with a nifty drop pass to Frank Vatrano while on a breakaway. Vatrano caught everyone off-guard, slipping a hard shot past Hellebuyck for a two-goal lead.
Between the excellent powerplay and strong goaltending from Luongo, Florida addressed their biggest shortcomings of the season to win this one today. For them, it was their first regulation win of the season. The shot count finished 34 to 26 in favour of Winnipeg.
Jets And Panthers Headed Back Home
With the Global Series behind them, the teams return to North America to continue their seasons. Winnipeg, now 8-5-1, still sit near the top of the Central. Florida, now 3-5-3, has some ground to make up to re-enter the race.
Winnipeg hopes Laine’s torrid pace in Finland will carry over wehn he comes home. Getting him up and running would be an enormous boost for the team. Four goals in two games are promising, and there’s little reason to think he can’t manage.
The Panthers can build off of this win with Luongo back and healthy. Keeping him off the IR seems to make a significant difference for the team. His win today was both the first regulation win for the team. Also, it is the best save percentage they’ve received from a goalie in any one full game. Backups James Reimer and Michael Hutchinson weren’t getting the job done combining for a total well beneath the .900 mark. Should solid goaltending become a regular occurrence for the Panthers they could easily get back in the mix out east.
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