WINNIPEG — Reilly Smith is still thankful the Florida Panthers have injected new life into his hockey career.
Smith, who was traded from Boston last summer, showed that gratitude by scoring a pair of goals as the Panthers got by the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 on Tuesday.
The winger now has a career-high 21 goals this season. Jaromir Jagr also scored his 21st and Vincent Trocheck picked up a pair of assists on Reilly’s goals.
“It’s awesome when you join a new team and you’re able to contribute like this,” Reilly said. “Obviously, I’ve been given a great opportunity here and I’ve tried to do my best not to squander it.
“Plus, I’m playing with great players. It’s nice playing with (Jussi Jokinen) and (Trocheck). It seems like they’re trying to set me up all the time.”
Smith has 38 points in 63 games, just two points back of the 40 he put up in 81 games with the Bruins last season.
Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien and rookie centre Andrew Copp scored in the second period for Winnipeg (26-32-4), which lost its fifth straight game at MTS Centre.
Roberto Luongo made 30 saves for Florida (36-19-8). It was the third stop in a five-game road trip for the Panthers and their first victory on the trip (1-1-1).
The win gave Florida sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division, two points ahead of idle Tampa Bay. The Jets remain last in the Central Division.
Ondrej Pavelec stopped 19 shots for the Jets, who were beginning a five-game homestand. Their home record now sits at (13-15-1) and they play a season-high 11 games at home in March.
“Just one of those things,” Byfuglien said when asked about his theory on the poor showing in front of their fans. “We try. It’s not because of lack of effort. It’s just things ain’t gone our way.”
Winnipeg led 2-1 going into the third period, but Reilly’s second goal on the power play, while Copp was in the penalty box for slashing Trocheck, tied it at 1:46.
“I kind of tried to go hard, low on his stick and they called it and I understand,” Copp said. “His stick came out of his hands.
“That’s a penalty that I don’t really want to take, but I was just trying to be aggressive and make a play.”
It did put a damper on his second goal of the season, and first since Oct. 31.
“Maybe a little bit,” Copp said. “You don’t want to contribute anything negatively to the team, and obviously that penalty was a turning point.”
Jagr made it 3-2 just 1:45 later when his shot went off the stick of Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba at 3:31. Jagr is now two points away from tying Gordie Howe (1,850) for third all-time in NHL points.
“It’s ridiculous, honestly,” Reilly, 24, said when asked what it’s like to play with the 44-year-old Jagr.
“You kind of got to think twice, just because you don’t want to squander the moments you have with pretty much a living legend, right? He’s done a great job for our team this year.”
It was another case of the Jets failing in the final period and Byfuglien had no explanation for why that happens.
“I thought we played a pretty good game through most of the game,” he said. “I didn’t think they had too much control of the game at any point. Just little things.
Winnipeg outshot the Panthers 16-5 in the first period and 9-5 in the second. Florida then flipped the table in the third with 12 shots to the Jets’ seven.
“Obviously, the first two periods weren’t great,” Luongo said. “But we had a good third period, we got the job done and even when we took the lead I thought they didn’t have much, they didn’t create much.
“We really started to skate in the third and that’s why we played much better there.”
Winnipeg hosts the New York Islanders on Thursday, while Florida travels to Colorado for a game the same day.