WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Kris Versteeg barely remembered the last time he had a hat trick.
“Probably back in bantam,” the Florida Panthers right wing said before correcting himself. “Or back in junior, sorry. It’s been a long time.”
No doubt he will recall this one for quite some time.
Versteeg had his first three-goal game in the NHL and added an assist to lift the Panthers to a 5-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.
“It was a lot of great work by the guys,” said Versteeg, who has eight goals in Florida’s impressive 8-4-3 start. “The linemates get you the puck in areas to score, and I was just a fortunate recipient.”
Jason Garrison and Mike Santorelli also scored to help Florida build a 4-0 lead after two periods. Brian Campbell added three assists as the Panthers won their second consecutive game and stretched their point streak to six.
Tim Stapleton and Andrew Ladd had goals for the Jets (5-8-3), who were sluggish and unable to mount an attack in the first two periods. Coming off a season-high, seven-game road trip, Winnipeg went more than 23 minutes without a shot during one span, and had only 10 shots through two periods.
“I didn’t enjoy the game,” irritable Jets coach Claude Noel said. “We played poor for a good portion of the game. A lot of it was lack of intensity. We didn’t have very many good players.”
A sedate sold-out crowd at the usually raucous MTS Centre finally found some hope as the Jets cut their deficit in half six minutes into the third period. Stapleton scored a power-play goal, and Ladd tipped in Zach Bogosian’s shot from the point to get Winnipeg within 4-2.
“We were standing around watching,” Ladd said. “We didn’t play the way we need to play in the first 40 minutes. The last 20 was more like the way we need to play.”
The Jets peppered goalie Jose Theodore with 17 shots in the period, but couldn’t get any closer. Theodore finished with 25 saves.
Campbell said the Panthers need to learn how to put teams away once they build a big lead.
“Sometimes it’s tough when you get up 4-0,” the defenseman said. “You want to keep that lead and you want to play safe. You’re on the road and you want to get those two points and get out. For us, playing safe doesn’t seem to be working for our team. It gets us on our heels.”
Noel kept starting goalie Ondrej Pavelec on the bench for the third period, after he allowed four goals on 15 shots, and replaced him with Peter Mannino. Mannino, a call-up from the St. John’s IceCaps of the AHL, stopped all four shots he faced.
Versteeg opened the scoring with a pair of first-period goals, including one on the first shot Pavelec faced at 7:14. He added a power-play goal at 17:27 and an empty-net goal late in the third for the hat trick.
Garrison blasted a shot past a screened Pavelec to make it 3-0 in the second period after an extended period of 6-on-5 play during a delayed penalty call.
The Panthers scored their second power-play goal of the night when Santorelli beat Pavelec. The Jets have given up six power-play goals in two games.
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