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Matthias, Markstrom make mark in Panthers' 4-1 victory

The SportsXchange

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida center Shawn Matthias had one thought after making a couple of sweet moves around two Winnipeg defenders to score the tiebreaking goal.

"I hope my buddies see that on SportsCenter," Matthias said with a shy smile. "It was just a reaction. On a play like that, you just let your body take over and hope it works out. It felt good, I guess."

Matthias' play likely will make a lot of highlight shows, but, in the end, it was rookie goalie Jacob Markstrom who proved most essential in the Panthers' 4-1 win over the Jets on Tuesday night at the BB&T Center.

Markstrom, who arrived from the minors too late to start Sunday against Carolina, was on time Tuesday, making 30 saves to help the Panthers snap a three-game losing streak.

It was just the third win of Markstrom's career (3-7-1) and his first since Oct. 24, 2011, against Montreal.

Markstrom was 0-2 in his first stint with the Panthers this season, but that is a bit misleading. In three games, he has allowed seven goals.

"That was good for him to get the win," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "He was a difference maker. I think he responded really well."

What Markstrom, 23, was responding to is the fact that he can now become his team's No. 1 goalie. With former starter Jose Theodore out six weeks with a groin injury and backup Scott Clemmensen struggling, Markstrom could get a majority of the playing time for the rest of the season.

Not that he is allowing himself to talk about that publicly.

"Every time I get called up, I'm hoping to play a lot of games, and I'm hoping to stick," Markstrom said. "That's the mind-set you have to have."

The Panthers, who entered the night in last place in the Eastern Conference, now have 19 points in 23 games. Winnipeg has 21 points in 22 games, and both teams are chasing Southeast Division leader Carolina (27 points).

Florida got a first-period goal from Tomas Kopecky, his ninth goal of the season. Winnipeg tied the score 1:42 into the second period on the first goal of the season by Kyle Wellwood.

That set up Matthias' tiebreaking score on which Colby Robak assisted for his first NHL point.

With 14:50 gone in the second period, the Panthers were awarded a penalty shot after Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien was caught hooking on a breakaway.

Rookie Jonathan Huberdeau converted the penalty shot, scoring with a high shot to Ondrej Pavelec's glove side. It was his 11th goal of the season and it made the score 3-1.

Early in the third period, the Panthers pulled away when Mike Santorelli followed his own shot and pounced on the rebound for his first goal of the season.

Jets coach Claude Noel was upset with his team's effort, citing Winnipeg's failure to draw a penalty in the entire game.

"I don't think we were very good," he said. "I don't think we were very good at all. I think we lacked a lot of things. It was concerning. I don't think we played hard enough or with enough passion or heart."

Noel said he wasn't surprised by anything the Panthers did.

"You've got to ask yourself: 'What are you thinking?'" he said. "We knew they would come out and play. We just needed to do some things in reverse of that.

"I thought their goalie played well. But I don't think we tested him. We never paid the price to win."

NOTES: Byfuglien played despite missing practice Monday to attend to a family matter. ... Panthers center Stephen Weiss was ruled out for the season because of a wrist injury. ... Weiss, 29, and Theodore, 36, are free agents after this season. There is a solid chance that neither player will return to the Panthers next season. The Panthers won't be able to deal either of them before this year's trade deadline because of their injuries. ... Pavelec made his 10th straight start, and Noel said he expects his goalie to continue to get a heavy workload. "He's very important to us," Noel said. "He's in a really good groove right now." Noel said he expects to rest Pavelec "somewhere in March" when his team plays 16 games. ... Winnipeg's backup goalie is Al Montoya, who has played four games this season, posting a 2-0 record with a 2.74 goals-against average and an .889 save percentage. ... Winnipeg winger Blake Wheeler, who suffered a deep bone contusion after blocking a shot Saturday against Washington, practiced Monday and said he was fine. "I drank a lot of milk when I was young," Wheeler said of his strong bones, "so I guess that helps." ... Winger Jon Rheault, 26, signed by the Panthers this summer, made his NHL debut on Tuesday. Rheault was the Flyers' fifth-round pick in 2006. ... Winnipeg was again without defensemen Tobias Enstrom and Zach Redmond and winger Anthony Peluso. ... The injury-plagued Panthers are still without forwards Scottie Upshall and Kris Versteeg and three of their top six defensemen: Ed Jovanovski, Dmitry Kulikov and Mike Weaver. Kulikov is out three to four weeks. Weaver is expected to miss a month. The others are expected to return in the next 10 days.
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