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Jets stay hot at home, cruise past Panthers

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WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets begin an extended long weekend feeling pretty good about themselves.

The Jets registered their third consecutive home victory, knocking off the Florida Panthers, 7-2, on Thursday night.

Jets' left-winger Evander Kane scored a pair of goals -- his 15th and 16th of the season -- while Aaron Gagnon, Andrew Ladd, Grant Clitsome, Dustin Byfuglien and Chris Thornburn contributed goals as well.

T.J. Brennan and Tomas Fleischmann scored for Florida.

The Jets (21-19-2) are a perfect 3-0 midway through a six-game home stand -- a stretch that should go a long way toward determining their playoff future in the clogged Eastern Conference. Winnipeg is tied with the New York Rangers for eighth in the conference. Both teams have 44 points, but the Rangers have two games in hand.

Winnipeg is also two points back of the Washington Capitals in the race for the Southeast Division crown.

The Jets now enjoy their first four-day break of the season and don't play again until Tuesday when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning at the MTS Centre.

"Guys feel better about themselves coming to the rink," said Kane. "It's good to have a positive mental attitude coming to the rink, and hopefully we can continue that. It's going to be nice to get some rest, and enjoy some time off and refocus on these last six games and get ready for a big push down the stretch here."

Winnipeg had lost five straight before coming home to beat Philadelphia, Buffalo and Florida.

Kane nearly chipped in his third of the game with less than three minute to go, only to be denied by Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen. No Jet has recorded a hat-trick since the organization moved from Atlanta to Winnipeg prior to the 2011-12 campaign.

Florida (13-21-6) hosts the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

The first period started with a flurry as the Jets and Panthers ignored defense and went run and gun, scoring a pair of goals apiece through the first six minutes.

When Fleischmann tied the game 2-2 at the 6:31 mark, Jets' head coach Claude Noel called a time out to settle things down, and the move proved effective. Ladd converted a nifty pass from Bryan Little about six minutes later for his 16th goal of the season, and Winnipeg never looked back.

The Jets added three unanswered in the middle frame to go up 6-2 through 40 minutes.

"Our second (periods) have really been the difference the last three games," said Kane. "We've come out wanting to bury teams, and not wait until the third period. And I think we did that again."

In the first period, Gagnon, with his second of the year, opened the scoring on a deflection for Winnipeg, but Brennan replied for Florida just 52 seconds later with his third goal of the year. Kane scored just 18 second later to put the hosts ahead, but the lead would last just 87 seconds as Fleischmann fired his ninth for Florida.

The Jets led 3-2 after Ladd's tally.

Winnipeg put the game out of reach in the second period with three goals in a span of 1:53. Clitsome, Byfuglien and Kane all scored, chasing Jacob Markstrom from the Florida net. He was immediately replaced by Clemmensen.

Clemmensen stopped 10 shots in just under three minutes to begin the third period, blanking the Jets on a two-man advantage.

Thorburn scored just his second goal of the year on a deflection midway through the third.

"Their D-corps is pretty strong, pretty big. But we did an effective job of getting in there and creating some havoc," said Thorburn. "It's huge. We knew coming in we didn't want to take them lightly. They're a strong team and they showed flashes of that throughout. They gave us some troubles, even though the score was what it was.

"We're just happy to keep this thing rolling and keep it going into next week."

Jets' goalie Ondrej Pavelec made 25 saves, while Clemmensen and Markstrom combined to stop 28 shots.

"They just capitalized on chances. They're a hungry team and they smelled blood," said Brennan, who finished with a goal and an assist for the Panthers. "They've been capitalizing in the second period. We obviously knew that going in, and we didn't do a good enough job being prepared. That's all on us."

The Panthers had eight regulars out of their lineup because of injuries, but Brennan said they can't fall back on that as an excuse.

"I try to never look at things as a victim," he said. "Regardless, we can control things. We can control how hard we work. And we didn't do that. It's, I think, a little embarrassing as a team and on the whole, and myself personally. You never want to leave a game thinking you could have done more.

NOTES: Florida defenseman Eric Gudbranson received a five-minute match penalty for an illegal hit to the head on Bryan Little near the end of the second period. The Jet center left the ice bleeding from the face and headed straight for the dressing room, but returned in the third period. ... Winnipeg scored 10 second-period goals in its last three home games. ... The Panthers were missing eight regulars from their lineup Thursday. The team has been decimated by injuries, with 209 total man games lost this season. Goalie Jose Theodore, blueliners Ed Jovanovski and Mike Weaver, and forwards Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss are among the wounded. ... The Jets played without defenseman Tobias Enstrom and center Nik Antropov, both hurt. ... Offense from Little means big things for Winnipeg. In games since Feb. 19, when he has at least a point, the Jets have gone 13-0-0. He had a pair of assists Thursday. ... Florida center Jonathan Huberdeau ranks first among rookies in goals (13) and points (27). ... Mike Santorelli battled his former team for the first time Thursday. The speedy Winnipeg forward was claimed off waivers from Florida on April 3. ... Panthers' forward George Parros eclipsed the 1,000 penalty-minute mark for his NHL career with a minor and double-minor in the second period.
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