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Jokinen's hat trick helps Panthers end skid

Nov 17, 2006 - 3:42 AM SUNRISE, Florida (Ticker) -- Olli Jokinen showed his Florida Panthers teammates what leadership is all about.

Jokinen scored three times on a season-high eight shots as the Panthers posted a 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

Chris Gratton and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester each tallied and Nathan Horton added three assists for Florida, which snapped a four-game losing streak.

"You want to win games, but what's important to me is how you play," Panthers coach Jacques Martin said. "On Monday night, we lost to Washington but we played a strong game. ... How we played showed we were heading in the right direction."

Jokinen scored twice in the second period and once in the third for his second career hat trick. The captain has netted all nine of his goals and 16 of his 19 points at home this season.

The Panthers, who gave up 17 goals during their slide, were much better defensively against the Canadiens. Ed Belfour stopped 27 shots, including all 13 in the first period.

"It's good for our confidence, but it's just one game," Jokinen said. "Eddie was outstanding in the first period. Sometimes your goalie is your best penalty killer. That was true tonight. We didn't do a good job in the first, but Eddie was outstanding. He was the biggest reason we were up by one goal."

"(Belfour) played really well early on and gave us the opportunity to win," Panthers center Joe Nieuwendyk said. "Once we settled in, we fed off his play and started going on the attack more."

The 41-year-old Belfour has won five straight decisions against the Canadiens.

"When we had some breakdowns, (Belfour) shut the door," Martin said. "He came up huge (on their power plays). Last I checked, that's why we pay him."

Jokinen's first score came 37 seconds into the second session when he wristed a shot between the pads of goaltender David Aebischer to give Florida a 2-0 lead.

"It's never easy to allow a goal like that (between the pads), but I thought I battled back pretty good and made a couple of nice saves, but it wasn't enough," Aebischer said.

"The second goal really killed us and cut our legs off," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. "After that, we were slow to react to loose pucks and we couldn't win the battle 1-on-1. We just went downhill."

Jokinen's second tally came at the 16:53 mark, when he stopped the puck with his foot after receiving a pass from Horton, then blasted it over the prone Aebischer to put the Panthers ahead, 3-1.

"They scored a big goal to come back to 2-1," Jokinen said. "When you get scored against, it's good to get a goal right back. I think the fourth goal broke their necks."

He completed the hat trick when a shot by Horton deflected off Canadiens netminder Cristobal Huet and Jokinen was there to tap it in with 31 seconds remaining.

"We played smart," Jokinen said. "We were up by three goals and there was no reason to take any chances. They were the team who needed to score in the third period. The third goal didn't really matter, there was a few seconds left."

Montreal, which scored three power-play goals Wednesday against Tampa Bay and was 5-of-12 with the extra skater in its last two games, was 0-for-5 with the man advantage vs. Florida.

Tomas Plekanec scored for Montreal, and Aebischer allowed four of 32 shots to get through before he was pulled by Carbonneau after the second period. Huet played the third session and stopped seven shots.

"I don't think (Aebischer) was good, he was battling with the puck from the first (period)," Carbonneau said. "If you have some of those nights, sometimes you don't know why."

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