By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
Mark Scheifele showed how fired up he was to play in the Winnipeg Jets’ home-opener Saturday afternoon.
Scheifele had a goal, assist and a fight for the ‘Gordie Howe hat trick’ in Winnipeg’s 6-4 victory over the Florida Panthers.
“Home opener. You’re back in front of your home fans. You gotta be a little fired up,” said Scheifele, who signed a seven-year contract extension earlier in the week.
“You’re playing against a team that went to the Stanley Cup Final last year. A lot of reasons to be excited for it.”
Kyle Connor scored twice, including an empty-netter, and added an assist. Mason Appleton had a goal and assist while Morgan Barron and defenceman Dylan DeMelo also scored for Winnipeg (1-1-0).
Josh Morrissey added two assists and Connor Hellebuyck made 29 saves for the Jets, who were starting a three-game homestand at Canada Life Centre in front of 13,410 fans.
Evan Rodrigues had two goals and two assists for the Panthers (0-2-0), who were coming off a 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday.
“It’s nice to know we’re not just going to roll over and give up games,” Rodrigues said. “I think as a whole it wasn’t good enough.
“I thought we played really well against Minnesota and I thought maybe as a team we thought it was going to be easy today. I think to be successful we have to play like we did against Minnesota. I don’t think we did today.”
Sam Reinhart had a goal and helper. Matthew Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov each added a pair of assists.
Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 29 shots for Florida in the second match of a three-game road trip.
Morrissey recorded a helper of a different kind on Appleton’s short-handed goal that gave Winnipeg a 5-2 lead at 14:17 of the third period.
As Appleton skated toward Florida’s end, Jets captain Adam Lowry followed but he lost his stick. When he skated by the bench, Morrissey handed him his stick and Lowry got the puck and passed it to Appleton for a shot that went under Bobrovsky.
The teamwork impressed Jets head coach Rick Bowness.
“Probably a little different in the height of the stick between what Adam uses and what Josh uses, but good for Mo to do that,” Bowness said. “Again, go back to Adam making that play with a stick he’s never used before and a lot shorter stick than he’s used to playing with and he still made a great play.”
The game was tied 1-1 after the first period and Winnipeg led 4-2 following the second.
Scheifele scored 33 seconds into a power play after he split two Panthers, took a pass from Connor and sent a shot past Bobrovsky on the glove side at 3:30 of the opening period.
Florida had two power plays and hit the mark six seconds into the second one after Rodrigues passed the puck to Reinhart at the side of the net and he redirected it behind Hellebuyck at 17:03. Tkachuk also picked up an assist, the 300th of his NHL career.
The teams struck fast to start the second period.
Rodrigues put a rebound past Hellebuyck 25 seconds into the frame, but Connor replied 10 seconds later to even it up at 2-2.
A quick dose of offence gave the Jets a 4-2 lead.
Rasmus Kapari put the puck in the crease for Barron to get his stick on it and score at 8:20, then DeMelo fired the puck in from the high slot at 9:55.
“It was more defensively, we weren’t very stout,” Florida head coach Paul Maurice said of the second period, noting his team had 16 shot attempts.
The third period opened with Scheifele and Tkachuk throwing some punches at each other. Earlier in the game, Tkachuk and Lowry exchanged some shoves and heated words.
Scheifele said it was the second time in his NHL career that he’s registered the Gordie Howe hat trick.
“You’re playing against a fantastic player, a tough guy, a guy who does everything. Didn’t like the hit. That’s what hockey is,” Scheifele said of Tkachuk.
Verhaeghe made it 5-3 at 16:31 and Rodrigues scored 65 seconds later to squeeze the score.
Tkachuk hit the post less than a minute later, but Connor made good on an empty-net goal with 1:10 remaining.
Florida was 1-for-7 on the power play and Winnipeg 2-for-6.
The Jets have won their past six home-openers and have some notable numbers in those games.
Connor has scored in each of those contests, netting a total of eight goals, which is the most for home-openers in franchise history.
Scheifele played in his 12th home-opener, tops in franchise history.
Winnipeg hosts the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, while Florida travels to New Jersey to play the Devils on Monday.