|Coach Q seeks 900th win as Panthers host Jets|
A pair of resilient teams will meet Thursday night when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla.
The Panthers, who will be starting a four-game homestand, showed what they are made of when they rallied from a 4-0, third-period deficit at the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, prevailing 5-4 on shootout goals by Vincent Trocheck and Mike Hoffman.
It was the first time in franchise history that the Panthers won after trailing by at least four goals.
"That was improbable -- didn't expect to do that one," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "(We're) finding ways to win."
Quenneville on Thursday could become just the second coach in NHL history to win 900 games, joining the now-retired Scotty Bowman (1,244 victories).
But the Jets, who will open a four-game road trip, won't be so simple to defeat.
For starters, the Jets have actually been better on the road this season (5-3-0) than they have been at home (5-5-1).
In addition, the Jets have overcome numerous problems that surfaced even before the season started. It began when defenseman Sami Niku and winger Kristian Vesalainen got into a car accident on the first day of training camp. Also during the preseason, star defenseman Dustin Byfuglien dropped a bombshell, saying he was considering retirement.
Byfuglien never reported, and Niku and Vesalainen have had no impact this season.
Beyond that, Winnipeg's problems have continued through the season. Center Mark Letestu was diagnosed with a heart condition that may end his career, winger Mason Appleton broke his foot while tossing a football with a teammate, and center Bryan Little was hit in the head with a puck, a serious injury that required numerous stitches.
Letestu, Appleton and Little are all on injured reserve, leaving Jets captain Blake Wheeler bewildered.
"I don't have a good word that isn't a curse to use for everything that has happened here this year," Wheeler told The Winnipeg Free Press. "It hardens your team. We're just staying in this fight."
The Jets' biggest weapon in their fight is goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who finished second in the Vezina Trophy voting in 2017-18 when he led the league in wins (44-11-9) while posting six shutouts, a 2.36 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.
Hellebuyck slumped a bit last season (34-23-3, 2.90 GAA, two shutouts and a .913 save percentage).
This season, the 26-year-old seems back on track with one shutout, a 2.40 GAA and a .928 save percentage.
Florida should feel fortunate if it gets Jets backup goalie Laurent Brossoit (4.12 GAA, .858 save percentage).
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if the Panthers go back to starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky after he was pulled following his four goals allowed in Boston.
Rookie backup Sam Montembeault, who was flawless through the third period and overtime, could get the start. He is 3-1-1 with a 2.96 GAA and a .903 save percentage. Bobrovsky is 6-3-4 with a 3.52 GAA and an .881 save percentage.
As for offensive leaders, Jonathan Huberdeau (team-high nine goals, 15 assists) and Aleksander Barkov (five goals, team-high 19 assists) top the Panthers with 24 points each.
Huberdeau has 249 career assists, tying Stephen Weiss for the franchise record. Barkov has a six-game points streak, with five goals and six assists during that span.
Center Mark Scheifele leads Winnipeg with 17 points, including a team-high-tying seven goals. Winger Nikolaj Ehlers also has seven goals. Patrik Laine has 15 points, including a team-high 11 assists.
--Field Level Media