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STEEGER AND THE JETS: Panthers' Kris Versteeg Loves Playing Winnipeg ... Erik Gudbranson on Way Back to Bigs

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BUFFALO -- Kris Versteeg doesn't like talking about Winnipeg. Nothing against the city, but he always knows when he gets asked about it, the conversation usually leads to his success against the Jets.

Versteeg doesn't know why he scores so much against the Jets. He just hope it continues. Versteeg gets a chance to add to his goal totals against Winnipeg Tuesday night.

"I honestly have no idea why it's like that and everyone just keeps bringing it up,'' Versteeg said Monday after the Panthers' light practice at First Niagara Center. The Panthers left for Winnipeg soon afterward.

"It's one of those things I guess. I would love it worked like that against every team. I don't know if I'm riding anything, but you get bounces and things like that. I hope it keeps up.''

Versteeg lit up the Jets last year, scoring seven goals with three assists in five games. Actually, Versteeg was held off the scoresheet in the first meeting between the two. So, Versteeg got 10 points in four games against Winnipeg.

Slowed by a groin injury, Versteeg played in his third game on Sunday against the Sabres. He has a goal and an assist this season. Guess who he scored them against?

"Sure, guys have a favorite team they like playing against and there really is no reason for it,'' said linemate Tomas Fleischmann. "Maybe it's the system they play. But Steeger has great games against Winnipeg. We expect big things from him when we play them.''

Coach Kevin Dineen has seen certain players do well against other teams and says, like Vertseeg, that he doesn't want to talk too much about it. You never want to jinx these kind of things.

"There's a little something there, but I don't know what it is,'' said Dineen, who has won four of seven meetings against the Jets heading into Tuesday's game.

"I don't like talking about it for obvious reasons. I'm glad he's hot against a divisional foe you see all the time and not a team like Vancouver or something.''

GUDBRANSON RETURNS

The Panthers expect to have defenseman Erik Gudbranson back with the team on Tuesday although they are unsure whether he will play.

Gudbranson needed shoulder surgery in September after being injured in a wakeboarding accident in Canada. He was suspended during the lockout and was assigned to Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

Gudbranson was expected to play in his second AHL game on Monday night in Houston before flying to Winnipeg on Tuesday.

"He's accomplishing everything we want,'' Dineen said. "I haven't made the final decision on if he plays or not. He's been out for seven months. We're finally getting guys back, getting into the groove of playing. He's still working his way through it.''

Florida practiced with five defensemen on Monday as Mike Weaver sat out with a hip injury that doesn't appear to be serious. Dineen said he didn't practice just as a precaution and could be back Tuesday.

"It's a nice luxury to have seven defensemen, but we need them,'' Dineen said. "We need the depth.''

-- Peter Mueller came into Florida's game against the Flyers on Jan. 26 with no goals; he scored that night and has been on a roll since, scoring a goal in each of the past four games.

Mueller's previous high had been scoring in three straight games.

"He's got the hot stick going,'' Dineen said.

TUESDAY: PANTHERS AT JETS
When, Where: 8 p.m.; MTS Center, Winnipeg
TV/Radio: FSF; WQAM-560
The series: Jets lead 40-30-5
The game: Florida snapped its five game losing streak by beating the Jets 6-3 in Sunrise last Thursday. The Panthers have won four of seven against the Jets since the franchise relocated from Atlanta following the 2010-11 season. Former Panthers captain Olli Jokinen scored his second goal of the season against Florida last week. The Panthers have won two straight; the Jets have lost three straight but haven't played since getting rolled 8-3 by the Lightning last Friday.

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