Jets continue important homestand against Panthers

The Winnipeg Jets continue a critical six-game homestand on Thursday night as they try to stay in the thick of the playoff hunt with a matchup against the Florida Panthers.

The Jets had dropped five straight before opening this residency with back-to- back wins over Philadelphia and Buffalo by identical 4-1 scores. They have 42 points on the season, leaving them two behind a trio of teams for the last playoff spots in the East. The Ottawa Senators and the New York Rangers and Islanders each have 44 points on the year. The Rangers are idle on Thursday, while Ottawa visits Philadelphia and the Isles play in Boston.

Winnipeg is also just two points back of the first-place Washington Capitals in the Southeast Division. The Caps do have a game in hand and host the Carolina Panthers on Thursday.

The Jets and Capitals will meet one more time, in Washington on April 23 in Winnipeg's second-to-last game of the regular season.

First, the Jets will look to get past a Panthers club that is last in the East with 32 points despite winning four of its last five.

Winnipeg got second-period goals from Kyle Wellwood, Aaron Gagnon and Andrew Ladd in Tuesday's win over Buffalo. Ladd snapped a 13-game goal drought, while Gagnon netted his first NHL tally in his 31st career game. It was his 10th contest with the Jets and third this season.

Blake Wheeler added an empty-net tally and Ondrej Pavelec made 29 saves in the big victory.

"I think we did a great job in all aspects tonight," said Pavelec. "The defense played great and we got some good goals. This was a good win at a big time for us."

Winnipeg did see defenseman Tobias Enstrom depart the game early with an undisclosed injury and he did not return to action.

The Panthers have little chance at making the playoffs just one season after winning the Southeast Division, but are trying to finish strong. They knocked off a playoff hopeful last time out, besting the Ottawa Senators 2-1 behind a season-high 40 saves by Scott Clemmensen.

Clemmensen made 16 saves in the third period and was making his first start since March 23. He picked up his first victory since Feb. 26, snapping a five- decision losing streak.

"I think we're all very happy with (Clemmensen's) game tonight, including his teammates," said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen. "It's one of those ones where he was a difference maker. They put a lot of pressure on us and we were able to withstand it and find a way to win. I feel this team deserved that game as well as the fan base. Nice win for us."

Dmitry Kulikov put home the game-winner in the third period while on the power play and Marcel Goc added a goal.

Thursday marks the fifth and final regular season meeting between the Jets and Panthers this season. They have split the previous four and Winnipeg has won the last two encounters at home.