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Jets face virtual must-win against first-place Panthers

by Patrick Williams
WINNIPEG -- Tonight's date with the Florida Panthers at the MTS Centre figured to be a critical game for the Winnipeg Jets.

But a home loss that featured a third-period meltdown to the Edmonton Oilers earlier this week means that tonight's game takes on even greater importance for the Jets (30-27-8). Winnipeg trails Florida by four points, and the Jets cede three games in hand to the Panthers. A regulation loss would set the ninth-place Jets six points behind Florida and leave them stuck one point behind the eighth-place Washington Capitals, who will also hold three games in hand after tonight.

While eight of the Jets' final 17 games are against Southeast Division opponents, a season-high eight-game homestand has yielded Winnipeg wins in only three of its first six games. The Jets will have a rare weekend off before concluding the homestand against the Buffalo Sabres early next week.

Aiding Winnipeg will be the return of defenseman Zach Bogosian after an upper-body injury cost him a seven-game absence. With Bogosian's return, the Jets, who have lost 244 man-games to injury this season, have a completely healthy roster. Newcomer Grant Clitsome, whom the Jets acquired via waivers from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, will not dress.

Ondrej Pavelec is expected to start in net.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Jets:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Zach Bogosian - Ron Hainsey
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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