Panthers can get closer to playoffs by beating Jets
Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 4:04 PMJETS (36-34-9) at PANTHERS (37-25-17)
TV: TSN-JETS (HD), FS-F (HD)
Winnipeg 4-5-1; Florida 4-2-4
This is the sixth and final game between these Southeast Division clubs. The Panthers have won three of the five matchups to this point, but the Jets won 7-0 when they last met on March 1.
Florida can help itself toward winning the first division championship in franchise history with a victory over Winnipeg. The Southeast's second-place Washington Capitals are active Monday, so it's possible that the Panthers' division lead will shrink to just one point, with one game in hand come Tuesday.
While the Jets were welcomed with open arms during their inaugural season in Winnipeg, they couldn't give their dedicated fans a chance to root for them in the playoffs. But Winnipeg still has a golden opportunity to affect the Eastern Conference playoff landscape as its opponent Tuesday remains in a tight race with the Capitals for the division crown.
Besides trying to spoil the Panthers' hopes to win the Southeast, the Jets will also look to bounce back from a tough 3-2 overtime loss to the rival Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday which officially bounced the club from playoff contention. Antti Miettinen and Kyle Wellwood both scored for Winnipeg, but Tampa Bay's Ryan Malone tied it midway through the third period and NHL leading scorer Steven Stamkos sent the Jets packing with his League-record fifth overtime goal of the season.
"There's too much emotion in this game," coach Claude Noel said after the devastating loss. "I can't even think past this game and the disappointment of it."
With just a 1-2-4 record over its last seven games, Florida is not exactly barreling into the postseason. But all the Panthers need is two points over their final three games to at least stave off the East's ninth-place Buffalo Sabres for their first playoff berth since the 1999-00 season. And although the Cats couldn't uphold their 1-0 third-period lead over the Red Wings Sunday, they did earn an all-important point in the shootout loss.
"Nothing's been given to us this year, and that's the fun part of it," coach Kevin Dineen said after the loss. "This is what we've been playing for -- to be a big part of the conversation as we move down the stretch."
Jets forward Spencer Machacek has 8 points (2g, 6a) over his last eight games. … Panthers winger Tomas Fleischmann
has 7 points (4g, 3a) over his last seven games.
Forward Eric Fehr (upper body) and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (lower body) are day-to-day for the Jets. … Jack Skille
(shoulder) and Matt Bradley
(concussion) remain sidelined for the Panthers.
The Panthers' success this season can be attributed to the consistent goaltending of Jose Theodore
and Scott Clemmensen
, since scoring has been tough to come by. As of Monday, Florida was 14th in the East with an average of 2.37 goals per game, but maintained a respectable fourth place standing in the conference with a 2.61 goals-against average.
The Jets had a solid first season in Winnipeg, but now must play out the final three games without any chance at making the playoffs. However, this fact has done little to curb the enthusiasm of the up-and-coming club.
"We're not going to stop fighting," right wing Chris Thorburn said after Saturday's game. "We're going to finish out the season on a high note."