SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Jaromir Jagr fulfilled his birthday wish in a big way.
The veteran forward scored twice to move into third place on the NHL career goals list and help the Florida Panthers beat the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 on Saturday night.
“When I got a birthday cake for my 44th birthday (on Monday), I said I wish I’m going to be a goal scorer,” Jagr said. “So far it worked so maybe I’m going to catch Gordie (Howe) and maybe Wayne Gretzky, too, you know?”
Jagr tied and then moved past Brett Hull and now has 742 goals, trailing only Gretzky (894) and Howe (801).
“I don’t really think about it, but to be honest with you. I don’t feel I played real well the last few games, so I wanted to make sure I played a little bit better today,” said Jagr, who has three goals in two games since his birthday. “I had a little bit more jump.”
Reilly Smith had the go-ahead power-play goal early in the third period and Roberto Luongo stopped 30 shots in his return after missing two games to help the Panthers win for just the third time in eight games (3-3-2).
Nikolaj Ehlers scored his 14th of the season on a power play in the first period, and Michael Hutchinson finished with 28 saves for the Jets, losers of three straight (0-2-1).
Jagr tied Hull with his first goal of the game 4:53 into the second period as he skated down the middle toward the goal and redirected a centering pass from Dmitry Kulikov and put the puck over Hutchinson’s right shoulder to tie the score at 1.
“It was special. I couldn’t even dream about it, first of all (Jagr) playing on the same team with me and then getting an assist on the history-making goal. It’s really special,” Kulikov said of his assist.
Jagr also earned praise from Hutchinson.
“He definitely showed why he’s one of the best in the game,” the Jets’ goaltender said. “He’s really good at protecting the puck, and he’s got a quick shot.”
Smith scored his 19th goal, at 3:58 of the third on a power play, to give Florida a 2-1 edge. The right wing fired a wrist shot from the right circle and the puck beat Hutchinson to the right side.
Jagr then scored his 20th of the season and the tiebreaker to move into sole possession of third on the career list on a wrist shot from close range with 6:23 left in the third period to make it 3-1.
“Of course, I love the game. There’s no reason to quit,” Jagr said. “I love the game. There’s a million people who wanted to be in my position. If I can play in the NHL, why not keep going?”
Luongo played for the first time since allowing five goals on 28 shots in a 5-0 loss against Nashville a week earlier.
“It was a tough week for me. I wasn’t happy obviously with my last few starts,” Luongo said. “Put in a good week of work. Usually it gets you over the hump and I felt good in the game. I felt sharp and on top of every puck.”
Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson, the team’s first-round pick in 2012 out of Boston College, and center Kyle Rau, the Panthers’ third-round selection in 2011 out of the University of Minnesota, both made their NHL debuts.
NOTES: Panthers C Jonathan Huberdeau (upper body) left the game early in the first period and did not return. … Winnipeg was without C Bryan Little, who was listed as day-to-day following a hit he took from Anton Stralman in Thursday’s 6-5 shootout loss at Tampa Bay. … The Panthers improved to 13-1-2 when Jagr scores a goal. … Kulikov and Jussi Jokinen each had two assists.