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Jets aim to bounce back against Panthers

by Mitchell Clinton (@MClinton007) / Winnipeg Jets

SUNRISE, Florida -- The Winnipeg Jets have turned the page from the loss in St. Louis, but that doesn’t mean they don’t remember something from it.

Coach Paul Maurice shuffled the lines in the third period in Tuesday’s game, and those new lines erased a 4-1 deficit. The Florida Panthers (29-23-14) will be facing those same lines, as Maurice had them all skating together at morning skate today at BB&T Center.

“We liked the way the lines structured out. I liked the way they performed, it gives us a little bit of a different match up rotation off the bench,” Maurice said today after morning skate. “You're going to have injuries, and it's going to happen again. I'd be really happy if we had no line juggling and everybody was in the line up. But, I don't have a concern, and I'll move them around if I don't like where we're at tonight.”

Michael Frolik will play between Andrew Ladd and Drew Stafford. Ladd, the Jets leader in points with 55, says Frolik will fit right in tonight, just as he did on Tuesday.

“It's probably a bigger adjustment for (Frolik) moving from the wing to centre. Maybe not being quite as comfortable there. He's a pretty smart player and one of our most reliable guys,” Ladd said. “I think the bigger thing is talking on the ice, and being vocal especially defensively and coming out of our zone… That's something we'll have to focus on tonight.”

Meanwhile, Jiri Tlusty will join a line with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. Wheeler says he’s looking forward to seeing what the line can create offensively.

“He's a creative player. He plays hard. I think the biggest thing for us, when you're not used to playing with certain guys, is just to keep things simple, get pucks to the net,” Wheeler said. “The play will start opening up when you start getting those pucks to the net. I think that's the thing all three of us bring to the table, we're quick, and can play with speed.”

As Maurice mentioned, line up changes are common with players injured. Bryan Little will miss his third straight game tonight, Dustin Byfuglien remains on the sidelines, as does Mathieu Perreault, who scored four goals in Winnipeg’s 8-2 win over Florida back in January. Ladd says the Jets aren’t putting much stock in that previous meeting.

“I don't think that was their best effort,” he said. “We're expecting a different team tonight, with a little more speed.”

The reason Florida may have more speed could be because they haven’t played since March 7, a 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders. But that rest may not have been beneficial for the Panthers’ pursuit of an Eastern Conference playoff spot. They’re currently six points back of Boston for the final wildcard berth.

“They've sat and watched teams crawl a little bit further away from them, and this game for them I'm sure is a must-win game in their mind,” Maurice said. “They'll never say it. The media will ask if it is… There's going to be a tremendous amount of energy from them. It will be a high paced game.”

Michael Hutchinson was the first goaltender off the ice after today’s morning skate, making him the projected starter for the Jets, who hold the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 78 points. Hutchinson looks to bounce back from being pulled from Tuesday’s game in St. Louis. Maurice is confident in his young goaltender’s ability to do just that.

“We have routines that we go through with our goaltenders on a daily basis, so we had a normal day with Michael,” Maurice said.

Puck drop tonight is at 6:30 pm central time at BB&T Center.

-- Mitchell Clinton,

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