Laine, Jets take on Panthers again in Finland
The 20-year-old Finn broke out of what many observers considered to be a significant slump with a natural hat-trick to pace the Jets to a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers on Thursday evening at a sold-out crowd Hartwell Arena in Helsinki.
The Jets and Panthers are in the Finnish capital as part of the 2018 NHL Global Series. They square off again on Friday.
Laine had scored just three goals in the first 12 games of the season — all on the power play — and his inconsistent play had seen him dropped down to the third and fourth lines for large portions of the last few games. He was second in league goal scoring last season with 44.
“I don’t think you can imagine how good that feels,” Laine said at a post-game press conference. “It’s good to be home and score all those goals back here. It’s pretty awesome.”
Laine was particularly ineffective during two losses over the last eight days to the Toronto Maple Leafs, during which he did not compare well with Leafs center Auston Matthews, the top pick in the 2016 draft, one spot ahead of Laine.
Most fans at the Hartwell Arena were there to see one of two players, Laine or Aleksander Barkov, 23, of the Panthers. Both were born in Tampere, a two-hour drive from Helsinki.
The two were far enough apart in age as juniors that they didn’t know each other growing up but they did wear their country’s colors together at the 2016 IIHF World Championships. Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, played a strong game on Thursday but wasn’t nearly as prominent on the scoresheet. He registered one assist on a goal by defenseman Keith Yandle in the first period.
“Overall, as a team, we played good in their zone,” Barkov said at his own post-game press conference. “We have another game (Friday) and we have to concentrate on that.”
Barkov will make the highlight packages, however, as Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien caught him with a legal shoulder check midway through the second period as he looked back for a pass in the Jets zone. Barkov crumpled to the ice and was slow to get up before going directly to the Panthers bench. He finished the game.
Former Jets 1.0 star and Finnish hockey legend Teemu Selanne helped whip the crowd up into a frenzy when he dropped the puck for the ceremonial face-off.
The Panthers outshot the Jets 38-35 but got out to an impressive 9-0 lead but had nothing to show for it. Jets winger Mathieu Perreault opened the scoring late in the first period.
Once the English-speaking reporters were finished asking questions, Laine was left behind to answer their Finnish counterparts. As Byfuglien got up to leave he jokingly told Laine, “we’re not going to hold the bus for you.”