Jets swamp Panthers

Jets forward Nik Antropov scores on Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen in front of defenceman...

Jets forward Nik Antropov scores on Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen in front of defenceman Erik Gudbranson at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., March 1, 2012. (FRED GREENSLADE/Reuters)

KEN WIEBE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:59 AM ET

WINNIPEG - "We want first place."

The fans inside MTS Centre weren’t shy about making their intentions known, as the boisterous chant rained down from the rafters, minutes before the Winnipeg Jets closed out a convincing 7-0 triumph over the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

With the win, the Jets kept their hopes of first place alive as they moved within two points of the Panthers in the race for top spot in the Southeast Division.

“So do we — they’re spot on,” said Jets sniper Evander Kane, who had two goals and four points in one of his more complete efforts of the campaign. “Their expectations are the same as ours and it’s good to see.”

On Thursday night, the Jets certainly showed they haven’t given up on first in the Southeast, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first period.

Athough the Panthers turned it on during the second period and held a sizable lead in shots on goal, the Jets weathered the proverbial storm and Ondrej Pavelec stood tall.

Then, the Jets regrouped for what was one of their most impressive third periods of the season.

Truth be told, it couldn’t have come at a better time, especially with Monday’s third-period collapse against the Edmonton Oilers fresh in their memory.

Instead of coughing up a 2-0 lead, the Jets poured it on in the third and left little doubt which way this game was going to end up.

Heart-and-soul defenceman Mark Stuart got things going by blasting his slapper off the body of Kyle Wellwood in front of the net to make it 3-0 just 1:49 into the frame.

“I just closed my eyes and threw it at the net,” said Stuart.

Less than three minutes later, the Jets brought the crowd to their feet (again), converting a rare 5-on-1 rush, with Bryan Little tapping home a backdoor pass from Blake Wheeler.

Before the period was out, Nik Antropov poked in a rebound for a power-play maker, Kane scored his second of the game and Wheeler got on the board.

The Jets certainly made a statement with a dominant third period, but again stopped short of calling this a statement game, despite beating the team they’re chasing.

Most importantly, they moved back above the playoff line with 70 points, one more than the ninth-place Washington Capitals, who hold three games in hand.

“You don’t want to rest on your laurels here,” said Wheeler. “Because we have a lot of tough games left and these guys still have games in hand and all that other B.S. It was a great night for us. A game we had to win and we won it convincingly, so we feel good about that.”

The Jets had plenty of reasons to feel good about their effort. It’s not often this team is going to pump in seven against a division leader.

“They’re a team that we’re behind and it could very well be the difference between being in the playoffs and not being in the playoffs,” said Kane. “It was great to be able to prove to everybody that we were able to play and that we have that playoff mindset going into these next 16 games here.”

The next challenge comes Monday, when the Jets close out what’s already been a successful eight-game homestand against the Buffalo Sabres.

Following up Thursday’s win with another is the only real option the Jets have to stay in this race.


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