FLORIDA PANTHERS: 30-20-12 (72 PTS.) vs. WINNIPEG JETS: 30-27-8 (68 PTS.)
GAME TIME: 8:30 P.M. EST.
OPPOSITION SITE: HOCKEY AT THE FORKS (WRITERS WANTED)
If the Florida Panthers win tonight, it will be the first time in almost four seasons that they’ve won four games in a row! With the Panthers looking to end their playoff drought that dates back to 2000 when they were eliminated by the New Jersey Devils, this game will give them the opportunity to expand their lead over their host tonight the, Winnipeg Jets to six points. Not to sound like a broken record, but this is another game that has two very big points up for grabs.
Unlike Panther teams of previous seasons, this unit appears to be up to the challenge, especially of late, and specifically with their performance Tuesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Mike Santorelli who must be relieved that he’s not been traded looked like a different Mike Santorelli with two goals, and some very hard play. For most of the season Santorelli has looked like the ghost of Ivan Novoseltsev, and you know nothing can be good with that image.
Stephen Weiss could be out of his funk as he followed up Sunday night’s three point game against Montreal with another goal in Toronto. Jack Skille played with the same energy and excitement that we saw in the first 30 games of the season, and made a very smooth pass on one of Santorelli’s goals. When the Panthers are able to have balanced scoring, solid defence, and can get the type of goaltending that Jose Theodore has been giving them of late, and most of the season for that matter, they have a chance to win every game.
Kris Versteeg will miss tonight’s game as he’s out with a lower body injury. Versteeg seems to lick his chops and has had the most success this year against the Jets versus any other team with six goals and two assists, including his first career hat trick of the season. It will be up to the rest of the Panthers to pick up the slack with Versteeg sitting this, and potentially the next three games out while he recovers.
The Winnipeg Jets will be looking to end a two game losing streak as they attempt to stay in the playoff race. The Jets are 5-3-2 over their last 10 games, and are in third place in the Southeast division. They are coming to the end of an eight game homestand where they have gone 3-1-2, and allowed four third period goals against Edmonton on Monday in a 5-3 loss.
Big Buff has been hot as of late with 10 points in his last five games, and has a seven game point streak in the works. Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd have also been “hot” as of late to lead the offensive rush for Winnipeg. The Jets have seven players with goals in double digits, and have three more players, Nik Antropov, Tim Stapleton and Jim Slater needing one, two and two goals respectively to make it and even 10. The Jets are most likely going to miss defenceman Zach Bogosian for the eighth straight game as he’s been out with an upper body injury.
Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec has been the workhorse in net playing 53 games and winning 23 of them. He is known for making some spectacular saves, and wil be needed by the Jets down the stretch to continue offering the same. I would expect to see Jose Theodore in goal for Florida not only because of his recent stellar play, but because he’s 6-1-1 against Winnipeg in his last 10 starts.
* During the first six games of this homestand for Winnipeg they have outscored opponents 13-5 in the second period.
* Winnipeg had the best month in franchise history with a 10-3-1 record in December.
* Nik Antropov has had six multi point games for Winnipeg this season.
* The Jets boast the NHL’s best power play at home scoring 25% of the time. 28 goals in 112 attempts.
* Former Panther Tanner Glass is one game away from his 250th.
* 279 man games lost to injury for the Panthers. The Jets have lost 244.
* Jason Garrison is one goal away from tying the franchise record for goals by a defenceman (15 by Bryan McCabe and Jay Bouwmeester).
* If the Panthers win tonight, it will be their fifth consecutive road win.
* The Panthers are 11-2-2 against Canadien teams, and are 5-1-1 north of the border.
* When the Panthers score at least three goals their record is 24-3-4.
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