The Panthers lost their last game before the All-Star break, but emerged from the hiatus with Wednesday's important 4-2 win over Washington. That victory moved Florida a point ahead of the Capitals for the top spot in the Southeast Division and the Panthers can extend that lead over idle Washington tonight.
A victory this evening would give the Panthers consecutive wins for the first time since they defeated Calgary and Carolina on Dec. 16 and 18, respectively. Since those back-to-back triumphs, Florida has gone 5-6-5 over its last 16 trips to the ice.
The Panthers received two goals from Mikael Samuelsson in Wednesday's regulation win over Washington. Shawn Matthias also provided a late insurance goal for Florida, which still has four games against the Capitals left on its docket.
Florida beat Washington without the help of leading scorer Kris Versteeg, who sat out the game with flu-like symptoms. Versteeg, who is pacing the Panthers with 19 goals and 43 points, was at practice on Thursday and is expected to play tonight.
Florida is capping a three-game homestand tonight and is 12-5-7 as the host this year. Following this evening's tilt, the Panthers will play four of their next five games on the road.
The Jets have also won two in a row and will try for their first three-game winning streak since Dec. 27-31 when they take the ice tonight. Winnipeg played Thursday evening in Tampa and Kyle Wellwood scored at 3:14 of overtime to give the Jets a 2-1 victory over the Lightning.
Blake Wheeler escaped a Bolts checker along the left-wing boards, moved to the net and slipped a pass across to Wellwood, who lifted the puck into the top half of the net to end the contest.
"I was just trying to circle around and see what was going on with the play," said Wellwood. "Blake made a great pass and my first instinct was to shoot it."
Wheeler added a score for the Jets, while Ondrej Pavelec stopped 30-of-31 shots for the victory.
The Jets welcomed back a pair of key players to the lineup on Thursday in defenseman Dustin Byfuglien and forward Alex Burmistrov. Byfuglien saw his first action since December 23 after dealing with a lower-body issue, while Burmistrov had sat out two games with an upper-body injury.
Byfuglien posted an assist and skated over 25 minutes on Thursday. Despite missing 16 games with his injury, he is still leading all Winnipeg defenseman this season with 25 points. Burmistrov was held off the scoresheet on Thursday and the 20-year-old has nine goals and nine assists this season.
Jets forward Evander Kane, who leads the team with 18 goals, is still out indefinitely with a concussion.
Winnipeg is playing the fifth test of a six-game road trip tonight and will close the swing Sunday in Montreal. The Jets are just 9-14-4 on the road this year compared to a 15-8-2 mark at home.
The Panthers have taken two straight road games from the Jets after losing this year's series opener in Florida back on Oct. 31. The Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise has won four straight in Sunrise.