Florida Panthers Visit Winnipeg Jets: Game 63 Preview

Florida looks to open up a five point lead on idle Washington by taking on the Winnepeg Jets, who also have a lot riding on tonight's matchup.

Florida will be visiting the Winnipeg Jets tonight at the MTS Centre in downtown Winnipeg. This is the fifth of six meetings this season between the divisional rivals, and the final game in Manitoba.

The Panthers have a 15-12-4 road record, while the Jets are 19-10-4 at home. Florida is completing a two game roadtrip. They started it out by defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs, 5-3 on Tuesday night. After tonight's game, they return home for a two game weekend homestand against the Nashville Predators and the Ottawa Senators.

The Jets are in the seventh game of an eight game homestand. Thus far, they've racked up a 3-1-2 record by posting victories against the Boston Bruins, the Colorado Avalanche, and the Tampa Bay Lightning, and losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime, the St. Louis Blues in a shootout, and the Edmonton Oilers in regulation. They finish it out against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday.

The last time the Panthers faced the Jets, Florida skated off with a 2-1 victory. Kris Versteeg (20) scored a power play goal in the first, and Sean Bergenheim (8) added the game winner in the second. Brian Little (12) scored the lone Jets goal. Scott Clemmensen stopped 20 of 21 Jets shots for the win, while Chris Mason allowed two goals on 30 shots for the loss. Versteeg spoke afterwards about his mastery of the Jets this season.

"I don't know, they're a good team," Versteeg said when asked about why he's been torturing the Jets this season. "Sometimes you shoot and it goes in. Sometimes as you've seen with me, it won't. I don't really care about who I'm scoring against as long as it goes in."

Jets @ Panthers 02/03/12 (via NHLVideo)

Most recently, the Panthers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday, 5-3. Marcel Goc (6) scored 13 seconds into the first period, Mike Santorelli (8, 9) added one two minutes later, then a power play goal in the second, Jason Garrison (14), fresh off his injury added the game winning power play goal in the third, and Stephen Weiss (16) added insurance in the third, banking one off Dion Phaneuf. Phil Kessel (32), Nikolai Kulemin (7), and Joffrey Lupul (24) provided goals for the Leafs. Jose Theodore stopped 28 of 31 shots for the Panthers win, James Reimer allowed all five goals on 23 shots for Toronto. Kevin Dineen spoke about Santorelli stepping up in the absence of top scorer Kris Versteeg,

"For him to get those goals -- those are big goals," Dineen said. "We need production throughout our line up without Kris Versteeg for the next little bit. A couple goals out of Michael Santorelli is big for us."

Panthers @ Maple Leafs 02/28/12 (via NHLVideo)

The Edmonton Oilers earned a victory over the Jets on Monday, 5-3. Kyle Wellwood (13), Alexander Burmistrov (13), and Nik Antropov (9) scored for Winnipeg, but the Oilers won with four goals in the third. Ryan Whitney (2), Ryan Jones (14), Lennart Petrell (4), Taylor Hall (23), and Jordan Eberle (28) all scored for the Oilers. Ondrej Pavelec took the loss for the Jets, allowing five goals on only 25 shots. The Jets were demoralized after the game, according to Wellwood,

"Tonight was the worst loss of the year," Kyle Wellwood said. "Guys are pretty devastated."

Oilers @ Jets 02/27/12 (via NHLVideo)

Season Series: 3-0-1

All-Time Series: 29-29-14

Game Time: 8:30 ET

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Standings:

Florida Panthers: 30-20-12, 72 points, first Southeast Division, third Eastern Conference, 14th NHL, on pace for 95 points. Last five: L-O-W-W-W, Playoff chances: 89.5%

Winnipeg Jets: 30-27-8, 68 points, third Southeast Division, ninth Eastern Conference, 19th NHL, on pace for 86 points. Last five: L-L-O-L-W Playoff chances: 19.9%

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