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In an almost carbon copy of Wednesday night's win over Anaheim, the Washington Capitals turned a close game through the first two periods with the Florida Panthers into a run-away victory, scoring twice in the third period to pull away and win their ninth straight game, 4-1, before a raucous sellout crowd at Verizon Center.
The nine game win streak is just one short of the team record, which was set in 1983-84.
Mike Knuble scored twice, Nick Backstrom once, and Jeff Schultz broke a 40-game drought with a wrist shot from the point. With Schultz's goal, the longest scoring drought on the team now belongs to Boyd Gordon at a lengthy nine games.
Everyone held their collective breath, however, when Mike Green took an incidental knee-on-knee hit from Dmitry Kulikov, as Green tried to slip a hit from the defender. Green laid on the ice for several minutes while getting attention from team trainers, who helped the league's highest scoring defenseman get up from the ice and into the dressing room.
Green would try to return later in the game, in which he took a quick loop during a TV timeout. But coach Bruce Boudreau and the training staff decided to hold him out.
The injury does not appear to be serious, but Green was walking with a limp in the hallway under Verizon Center after the game.
Boudreau seemed optimistic that Green would play on Sunday against Tampa Bay. "I assume he'll be playing Sunday. He came out there, as you saw, and he felt fine. But we didn't want to take any chances. It was more of a charlie horse than anything else."
"We'll see," said Green, among a throng of media after the game. "I can't really tell right now. It's not serious, but we'll see."
Florida obviously decided that physicality would be an important part of this game, and their hitting was noticeably increased. The were very effective taking the body, especially early, keeping the Caps bottled up...until they broke out.
Green took an elbowing penalty in the first in retaliation for a particularly big hit by Cory Stillman. Talking heads have already called for a suspension. For Green's part, he said it was "an accident", and he thought he was leading with his shoulder.
"Tonight it seemed like they were playing solid defense and taking the body," Green said. "A little different than what we're used to from them."
For the first two periods, the Caps appeared a little sluggish, letting the physical play come to them a bit—though still getting their shots off. Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun was strong, though, appearing to have good confidence and control.
The Caps did score first. Knuble made a strong run to the net, and Backstrom tipped it past Vokoun. Washington held a 1-0 lead after one.
But Vokoun was the early hero, making save after save against the league's most powerful offense.
Florida tied it up early in the second, with Stephen Weiss making good on a nice feed from Cory Stillman.
But the Caps would not be denied. Just 25 seconds later, the first line all crashed the net, with Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Knuble all inside 10 feet of the crease. Backstrom fed Ovie, who shot, and the puck careened off Knuble's skate for the goal.
The Caps just steamrolled Florida in the third. Schultz's goal was aided by a screen from Brooks Laich, and Knuble got a bit of a knuckleball past Vokoun for the clincher.
Knuble remarked about the team's performance in the third periods during the winning streak. "We were just playing with so much confidence in the third. We know if it's close going into the third, we just kinda rally around and get things going."
And with all of the offensive highlights, it's easy to look past the other aspects of the game. But once again the team did not allow a power play goal, and goalie Michal Neuvirth (35 saves) was strong between the pipes.
"We gave up way too many chances, but Neuvirth was outstanding," Boudreau said of his rookie netminder. "When you have good goaltending, sometimes you [cover] your mistakes."
So on Sunday, this Caps team will attempt to tie the franchise record winning streak. Boudreau said the historical aspect hasn't sunk in for him or the team. "It's great, and it'll sink in later, as did six-game winning streaks. It'll be nice if it happens, but it's not our goal."
Boudreau left that goal unstated, but it was apparent to everyone in the room, and certainly understood by everyone in attendance, what Boudreau's ultimate goal for this team really is.