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Jets seek to gain ground on Panthers in Southeast

by Brian Hunter
PANTHERS (21-15-10) at JETS (22-20-5)


Last 10:
Florida 3-4-3; Winnipeg 4-6-0

Season Series: Third of six meetings between these Southeast Division rivals. The road team was victorious in the first two. Andrew Ladd had the deciding shootout goal as the Jets won 4-3 in Florida on Oct. 31, while Kris Versteeg's hat trick led the Panthers to a 5-2 triumph in Winnipeg on Nov. 10.

Big Story:
Although the Jets haven't been able to build off a stellar month of December the way they would have hoped and currently sit outside the Eastern Conference's top eight, they've won two of their last three and are within striking distance of first place in the Southeast and a top-three seed. The Panthers have also scuffled of late and seen their lead over the Capitals dissipate; now they have to worry about the Jets sneaking up behind them as well.

Team Scope:

This is the finale of a three-game road trip. The opportunity was there for Florida to reclaim first place Friday night when Washington was shut out in Carolina, but the Panthers couldn't take advantage and fell 3-1 to the Blackhawks in Chicago. Two goals late in the first period set the tone, Duncan Keith's power-play goal with 16.4 seconds left before intermission proving to be the game-winner. Jason Garrison continued his breakout season with his 13th goal early in the third -- his eighth with the man advantage -- but that was the extent of the Panthers' offense.

"For the most part, I think we didn't play a full game and I think we all know that," said forward Jack Skille, who was traded from the Hawks to the Panthers as a rookie last season. "It's going to be interesting to see our response (Saturday) night."

Scoring goals has been an issue for Winnipeg over the past three weeks, with the team either being shut out or managing just a single goal in four of six losses in January. So it had to come as a relief when the Jets scored four goals for the first time since Dec. 27 in a 4-1 victory over the Sabres on Thursday night. Tobias Enstrom scored the go-ahead goal on a power play in the second period and Tim Stapleton added an insurance goal with the man advantage early in the third. Ladd and Nik Antropov also tallied to support a 25-save effort by Ondrej Pavelec.

"It's always great to get a win coming home from the road," Enstrom said in the Winnipeg Free Press. "To bounce back with a win like this feels good. It's fun to score goals, but the most important thing is winning, and we've got some important games coming up here."

Who's Hot:
Tomas Kopecky has 1 goal and 2 assists during a three-game points streak for the Panthers, while Dmitry Kulikov has 3 assists in the last two games. … Enstrom has goals in three straight games for the Jets. Ladd, Antropov and Kyle Wellwood all had multi-point efforts against the Sabres.

Injury Report:
Florida goalie Jacob Markstrom (knee), defenseman Ed Jovanovski (hand) and forwards Sean Bergenheim (lower body) and Marco Sturm (head) are on injured reserve. … Winnipeg defenseman Zach Bogosian could make his return from a lower-body injury that has cost him five games. Defensemen Derek Meech (lower body) and Dustin Byfuglien (knee) are on injured reserve.

Stat Pack:
Garrison leads all defensemen in goals and power-play goals. He's on pace to become the first blueliner to reach double digits in PPGs since Mike Green of the Capitals had 10 in 2009-10. Green had 18 PPGs the season before that. … Despite not having played in almost a month, Byfuglien still ranks in the NHL's top 10 for shots by a defenseman with 123, which is third among all Jets skaters.

Puck Drop: Ladd, who has been a vocal leader in his first season as Winnipeg captain, was already looking ahead after Thursday's victory.

"(The Panthers) aren't too far in front of us," he said in the Free Press. "They should definitely be in our sights. Every game is huge right now and so it's just another big one. You're going to have games where you don't feel like you have enough energy or things just aren't going for you, but if we have a consistent effort on a nightly basis, we're going to be in a lot of games.

"That's what we want in here: We want guys to show up and battle every night."
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