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First-place Jets host surging Panthers

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Dustin Byfuglien may have had a fun time Friday night, singing along to the in-game songs and clapping for his teammates as they ran away with a 6-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, but don’t expect him to be content spending 17 consecutive minutes in the penalty box Sunday when the Florida Panthers come to town.

The Winnipeg Jets defenseman took exception to rookie A.J. Greer giving his captain Blake Wheeler a few crosschecks with just a few seconds left in the second period and quickly dropped his gloves to teach him a lesson. Even though he lost his balance momentarily, he laid a beating on the 21-year-old, including landing a number of punches while they were both on the ice and the linesmen were scrambling to separate them.
The hulking rearguard was assessed two minutes for roughing, five minutes for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct. So, essentially the third period.
Coach Paul Maurice wasn’t concerned about one of his assistant captains taking matters into his own hands in a game in which his team had a four-goal lead.
“We were just a little concerned that their fourth-line guy was going to take liberties with Blake Wheeler,” Maurice told The Winnipeg Sun. “But Buff picked up on that before anybody else did and closed the gap. I have no problem. Either the referees have to take care of it or you have to take care of it. One of the two. You can’t let it get running around on you.
“In a 4-0 game we want to take care of our players.”
To help pass the time, Byfuglien undid his helmet strap and became a fan, singing and clapping along to John Denver, Neil Diamond and AC/DC, garnering more camera time than most players do while in the sin bin. Videos of him quickly went viral.
The Jets (34-15-9) are 5-2-1 on their season-high 10-game homestand and tied for first in the Central Division with the Nashville Predators.
Despite their lofty status in the standings, the Jets are doing their best to dampen expectations. Wheeler told a media scrum earlier this week that fans and the media needed to “pump the breaks” with all the talk of the Jets being a Stanley Cup threat this season.
The Panthers (26-23-6) flew into Winnipeg right after thumping the Calgary Flames 6-3 at the Saddledome on Saturday night. They are six points out of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference after winning three straight and scoring 17 goals in the process. Florida has won six of its last seven games.
The Panthers’ playoff hopes received a big boost as goaltender Roberto Luongo returned between the pipes for the first time since suffering a groin injury in early Decmeber to stop 30 of 33 shots.
Defenseman Mike Matheson scored twice and center Aleksander Barkov had a goal and two assists.
“Our big guys were the stars,” coach Bob Boughner said in his postgame media scrum