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Winnipeg Jets Visit Florida Panthers: Game 80 Preview

Win and in. Can the Panthers break the drought in front of the home fans? Birthday boy Stephen Weiss certainly hopes so.

The Panthers host the Winnipeg Jets tonight at 7:30 PM ET in Sunrise. This is the sixth and final game this season between the natural geographic rivals. The Panthers are 20-9-10 (.641) at home, while the Jets sport a 13-21-5 (.397) road record, only the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Columbus Blue Jackets have fewer road points.

The Panthers just finished up a four game roadtrip, going 1-1-2, beating the Montreal Canadiens in a shootout on Tuesday, 3-2, losing in overtime to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, also 3-2, dropping a 4-1 matchup to the NHL worst Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, then salvaging a point in Detroit, losing in the shootout 2-1 on Sunday. After tonight's game, they hit the road for a match with the Washington Capitals on Thursday and finish out the regular season at home on Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. Florida's magic number for a division title is now two (over division second place Washington). The magic number for a playoff berth is also two, over the Eastern Conference ninth place team, the Buffalo Sabres.

The Jets are playing the third game of a four game roadtrip. They beat the Hurricanes, 4-3 in overtime on Friday, and lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-2 on Saturday, also in overtime. They finish up against the New York Islanders on Thursday night before closing the season at home against the Lightning on Saturday. The Jets have been eliminated from postseason contention, but would love to spoil birthday boy Stephen Weiss' first playoff clincher at home.

The two last faced each other on March 1st in Winnipeg. Evander Kane (25) and Jim Slater (9) each scored in the first period to put Florida in an early hole just six minutes into the contest. After fighting back and holding the Jets scoreless through the rest of the first and for the entire second period, the Jets pulled away with five goals in the third. Kyle Wellwood (14), Bryan Little (19), Nik Antropov (10), Evander Kane (26) and Blake Wheeler (14) poured it on. Jose Theodore (22-15-10, .920, 2.38) stopped 20-of-24 shots in the loss, while Scott Clemmensen (13-6-6, .910, 2.63) allowed three goals on only eight shots in relief. Ondrej Pavelec (28-28-8, .907, 2.88) stopped all 33 Panthers shots for the shutout. Panthers coach Kevin Dineen spoke afterwards,

"We had lots of turnovers and they ended up in our net," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "You can't play that kind of hockey in October, and you certainly can't play it in March. It's definitely a man's game this time of year, and we did not look prepared.

Panthers @ Jets 03/01/12 (via NHLVideo)

The Panthers lost a shootout to the Detroit Red Wings in Joe Louis Arena on Sunday afternoon, 2-1. Tomas Fleischmann (26) scored with assists from Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss to put the Panthers on top with two minutes to go in the first period. It was the only blemish on the night for goaltender Jimmy Howard (26-of-27 saves, 34-16-3, .920, 2.14) The Red Wings pulled even at the five minute mark of the third period when Jiri Hudler (25) fooled hero of the day Scott Clemmensen (31-of-32 saves, 13-6-6, .910, 2.63) After a scoreless overtime, Pavel Datsyuk and Wojtek Wolski traded shootout goals in the first frame, with Hudler netting the game winner in the second. Mikael Samuelsson and Kris Versteeg were unable to convert. Hudler addressed the media afterward,

"We want to score more, but we’re getting chances (and) we’re getting better," said Red Wings forward Jiri Hudler, who scored Detroit's lone goal in regulation 5:30 into the third and added the deciding goal in the shootout. "We had another slow start, but as the games go on we’re getting better. We still have to work on it and be better in the playoffs, obviously."

Panthers @ Red Wings 04/01/12 (via NHLVideo)

You can read even more at Winging It In Motown.

The Jets are coming off an overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-2 on Saturday. Antti Miettinen (5) and Kyle Wellwood (18) each beat Bolts goaltender Sebastien Caron (26-of-28 saves, 1-0-0, .938, 1.60) Ryan Malone (19, 20) scored at even strength and on the power play, and Steven Stamkos (56) added to his NHL lead with his NHL all-time record fifth overtime gamewinner of the season. Ondrej Pavelec (36-39 saves, 28-28-8, .907, 2.88) took the loss. In spite of the Lightning win, both teams were eliminated from the playoffs. Jets coach Claude Noel talked afterwards,

"There's too much emotion in this game," coach Claude Noel said. "I can't even think past this game and the disappointment of it."

Jets @ Lightning 03/31/12 (via NHLVideo)

For more, check out Raw Charge.

Common Thread:
Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver played 57 games over three seasons for the team when they were still based out of Atlanta. He tallied six assists with a minus-six rating and 30 penalty minutes.

Jets left winger Tanner Glass played 44 games for Florida over two seasons, scoring one goal and one assist with a minus-five rating and 46 penalty minutes.

Jets left winger Kenndal McArdle played 33 games over three seasons for the Panthers, scoring one goal and two assists with a minus-eight rating and 47 penalty minutes.

Panthers Milestones:

Dmitry Kulikov will play in his 196th Panther game, tying him with Steve Montador in 42nd all-time. Shawn Matthias will play in game number 204, tying him in 37th with Juraj Kolnik.

Kris Versteeg sits in 50th with 22 goals scored. Jason Garrison has 23 in 49th. Shawn Matthias is tied in 46th with Mike Van Ryn, with 25 each. Tomas Fleischmann is in 45th with 26. Mike Santorelli will move into a tie with Niklas Hagman in 37th all-time with his next goal, number 30. Ed Jovanovski will move into 32nd with his next goal, number 32, with Richard Zednik.

Brian Campbell will move into a tie with Keith Ballard in 40th all-time with his 48th assist. Dmitry Kulikov will tie Valeri Bure in 32nd all-time with his 56th assist.

Panthers Leaders:

Mike Weaver, Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann - 79


Tomas Fleischmann - 26
Kris Versteeg - 22
Stephen Weiss - 19
Sean Bergenheim - 17

Brian Campbell - 47
Stephen Weiss - 37
Tomas Fleischmann - 33

Tomas Fleischmann - 59
Stephen Weiss - 56
Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg - 51

Stephen Weiss - plus-8
Jason Garrison, Kris Versteeg - plus-5

Point Shares:
Jose Theodore - 9.9
Brian Campbell - 8.1
Jason Garrison - 8.0
Tomas Fleischmann - 7.0
Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg - 6.3

Panthers Injuries:
Jack Skille and Matt Bradley are both out, Skille for the season, and Bradley until April at the earliest.

Panthers Starting Lineups:
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Wojtek Wolski - Shawn Matthias - Scottie Upshall
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson

Goaltender: Jose Theodore (22-15-10, .920, 2.38) and Scott Clemmensen (13-6-6, .910, 2.63) remain Florida's options in net, at the time of this writing neither has been confirmed.

Jets Injuries:|
Tanner Glass will miss the rest of the season with a broken foot. Eric Fehr has an upper body injury and his status is unknown.

Jets Starting Lineup:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Alex Burmistrov - Kyle Wellwood
Chris Thorburn - Jim Slater - Spencer Machacek
Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart - Grant Clitsome

Ondrej Pavelec (28-28-8, .907, 2.88) may get the start tonight.

Corsi Ratings: (last five games)

Florida Panthers:
Jerred Smithson - .596
Jason Garrison - .558
Sean Bergenheim - .556
Dmitry Kulikov - .556
Scottie Upshall - .545

Winnipeg Jets:
Kyle Wellwood - .636
Grant Clitsome - .607
Evander Kane - .592
Blake Wheeler - .588
Mark Stuart - .579

Florida Panthers:
37-25-17, 91 points, first Southeast Division, third Eastern Conference, 14th NHL, on pace for 94 points. Last five games: O-W-O-L-O. Playoff odds: 99.6%

Winnipeg Jets: 36-34-9, 81 points, fourth Southeast Division, 11th Western Conference, 22nd NHL, on pace for 84 points. Last five games: L-L-L-W-O. Playoff odds: Out

Check out Arctic Ice Hockey for the latest in witty remarks from Jets fans. Check out the dedicated Florida Panthers blog, Litter Box Cats.

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.