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Kyle Connor scores twice, Jets beat Panthers 7-2 for third straight win

WINNIPEG — Kyle Connor admitted he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder after he was demoted from the Winnipeg Jets' top line.

Now that the rookie is back up with centre Mark Scheifele and right-winger Blake Wheeler, he wants to show that's where he belongs.

He helped his cause Sunday when he scored twice and Wheeler and defenceman Tyler Myers each had three assists as the Jets extended their winning streak to three games with a 7-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Sunday.

Connor had started the season with Wheeler and Scheifele, but he was moved to the fourth line late last month. Now he's been back up for a few games and has reached 21 goals.

"Definitely," Connor replied when asked if he had something to prove after his demotion. "You're given that much ice time, you gotta prove yourself out there and work that much harder. You gotta be good every night."

Nikolaj Ehlers, Scheifele, Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault and Patrik Laine also scored for the Jets, who have one more game in their season-long 10-game homestand (6-2-1).

Wheeler extended his point streak to five games and has two goals and seven assists. He's also racked up 13 points in his last nine games. Scheifele has three goals and five assists during a four-game point roll.

"(Coach) put back our line together and what difference in (Connor's) game," Wheeler said. "Last game, he was all over every puck, created so many loose pucks for Scheif and I. It makes all the difference in the world for our line when he plays like that."

Denis Malgin and Aleksander Barkov both scored on the power play for the Panthers, who had won their previous three games.

"I think we played a good game, our first two periods," Barkov said. "I don't know, they just started scoring. We played a bad defensive game today and it cost us (the) whole game."

Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves for the Jets (35-15-9), who moved into first place in the NHL Central Division with 79 points, two points ahead of idle Nashville, which has a pair of games in hand.

James Reimer stopped 27 shots for the Panthers (26-24-6), who were coming off a 6-3 win over the Calgary Flames the night before.

The teams were tied 1-1 after the first period and Winnipeg led 3-2 after two when Scheifele put in his 18th of the season with 1:31 left in the middle frame.

"I wasn't unhappy at 2-2 with 90 seconds to go in the second period," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. "Even though we didn't have great legs, I thought that we were managing the game OK.

"It got away from us in the third and that's when the back-to-back hurts, I think, in the third period. That's when you're chasing and that's when the brain starts going on you."

It was the third time this season the Panthers have given up seven goals and the fifth time the Jets have scored seven in a game.

Winnipeg's run of killing off 16 straight penalties ended at 8:57 of the first period when Malgin's shot from the top of the right circle went high past Hellebuyck while Myers was in the box for tripping.

The Jets then tallied their own power-play goal 13 seconds after Panthers defenceman Mark Pysyk was penalized for boarding. Wheeler threaded a pass through defenders across the front of the net for Connor, who quickly shot the puck into the net as Reimer was moving over at 12:06.

Ehlers scored his 23rd of the season at 4:39 of the second and Barkov was credited with his 20th when he got a piece of a Evgenii Dadonov shot. Barkov has 11 points (five goals, six assists) in his past eight games.

Laine finished off the game's scoring with his team-leading 27th goal on a backhand shot with 1:35 remaining.

Notes: Winnipeg hosts the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday and Florida plays in Toronto the same day.

Judy Owen, The Canadian Press

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