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EXTRA-SPECIAL BONUS Panthers Notebook from Winnipeg: Cats Weather the Storm ... Versteeg Wants to Score Goals, Not Fight ... Dmitry Kulikov Keeps Streak Going

Logo1BY KIRK PENTON, Special to the Miami Herald

WINNIPEG -- The Jets awoke from their slumber at the start of the third period on Thursday night.The Jets scored twice to cut the Panthers lead to 4-2, and the momentum had clearly swung in the home team’s favour.

It had all the makings of a collapse, but the Panthers didn’t let that happen and cruised to a 5-2 victory on the strength of Kris Versteeg’s hat-trick.

Being able to weather Winnipeg’s third period storm was perhaps the most satisfying development for Florida on Thursday night.

“Sometimes it’s tough when you get up 4-0,” defenceman Brian Campbell said. “You want to keep that lead, and you want to play safe. You’re on the road, and you wanna get those two points and get out. For us, playing safe doesn’t seem to be working for our team. It gets us on our heels, and obviously they were applying more pressure on us, taking some more chances.

“It’s a tough situation. We’re trying to get better at it. I don’t think we’re there yet, but slowly, hopefully, we can get there.”

The Panthers got out-shot 17-5 in the third period, but goaltender Jose Theodore, who got some help from his posts, was able to keep the Jets at bay for the frame’s final 14 minutes.

“We feel as a group that we let a few (games) get away,” defenceman Ed Jovanovski said. “I think we learned as a team how to finish games off.”

The Panthers host the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday at 5 p.m. at BankAtlantic Center.

VER-TRICKERY

Versteeg notched his first hat-trick since his days as a junior in the Western Hockey League, and he now has eight goals in just 15 games.

His career high is 22, which he set with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2008-09.

The 25-year-old was quick to credit his linemates for his offensive outburst, but head coach Kevin Dineen believes Versteeg is simply showing off his talents.

“He’s opportunistic, and opportunity presents itself in different ways,” Dineen said. “What he’s done is he’s realized that he’s been given a quality opportunity on this team that he may not have seen in Toronto or he may not have seen when he was in Chicago with those incredible offensive players that those teams have.

“When he’s getting those high-end roles he’s really decided to take advantage of it. And it hasn’t just been one game. He’s been really consistent and a good player for us all year.”

GOALS, NOT FIGHTS

With friends like Dustin Byfuglien, who needs enemies?

At least that’s what Versteeg was thinking when the Jets defenceman hauled him down as he headed for Winnipeg’s empty net late in the third period on Thursday night.

It didn’t matter, though, as Versteeg found a way to slide the puck in the net after getting taken to the ice.

“I was almost hoping Buf would let me go,” Versteeg said with a chuckle. “He’s a good friend, but he didn’t and it was a fortunate bounce.”

THEO SOLID AGAIN

Panthers netminder Jose Theodore has been around a while, so he realizes how crucial every single point is.

Florida entered Friday night’s NHL action as the Southeast Division leader with an 8-4-3 record.

“You need to get the points, especially early on,” said Theodore, who stopped 25 shots against the Jets. “The standings are going to get really tight. Early in the season you need the points.“We saw in previous seasons how tight it gets toward the end, so these points are huge.”

POWERED UP

The Panthers were 2-for-5 on the power play against the Jets, bringing their success rate to 24.1%.

That is the fifth best mark in the league.

“It’s 15 games into it, so I don’t like to get too carried away with it, but we just worked on it,” Campbell said. “We’ve talked a lot as individuals and as groupings, and we know where everybody is on the ice and we know what our responsibilities are and how we want to generate offence. And we’ve worked hard.”

RED HOT KULIKOV

Defenceman Dmitry Kulikov has at least one assist in five consecutive games, which is tied for the longest such streak in the NHL this season.

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