Capitals win 9th straight despite Green's early exit with injury

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 30, 2010; D01

Mike Knuble recorded another multi-goal game, and Jeff Schultz became the latest low-scoring defenseman to end a goal drought Friday night at Verizon Center. But the focus after the Washington Capitals picked up their ninth straight victory with a 4-1 triumph over the Florida Panthers was the uncertain status of Mike Green.

Green suffered a charley horse near his right knee during an open-ice collision with Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov late in the second period. The league's leading scorer among defenseman went down in a heap, lay on the ice motionless for several moments and did not return to the game.

Green and Coach Bruce Boudreau both said the injury is not believed to be serious, but Green was walking with a limp and could not guarantee that he'll be in the lineup Sunday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"We'll see," said Green, who attempted to return before calling it a night. "I can't really tell right now. It's not serious, but we'll see."

Boudreau was a bit more optimistic, saying: "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 charley horse than anything else."

The coach added, "I'm just very happy to see that it is not going to be long term."

The encouraging news allowed the Capitals to celebrate another win, giving them the franchise's longest streak since 1983-84, when the club won 10 straight.

"I thought we were lucky, actually," Boudreau said. "Because I didn't think we had our best game tonight. We gave up way too many chances, but [Michal] Neuvirth was outstanding. When you have good goaltending, sometimes you [overcome] your mistakes."

Boudreau was referring to a sequence early in the third period when Schultz scored his first goal in 42 games with a point shot through traffic that stretched the Capitals' lead to 3-1.

About a minute and a half later, Neuvirth (35 stops) snapped a Kulikov slap shot from midair with a scintillating glove save.

"It was a big goal. It was a relief goal," Boudreau said. "I thought the Panthers were really coming on and I knew Michal was going to have to make a couple of big saves."

Sixty-one seconds after Neuvirth's save, Knuble capped a physical contest that featured three roughing penalties by scoring his second goal of the night. The rugged winger ripped a shot past Tomas Vokoun (36 saves) on the short side from the faceoff circle.

Knuble has 11 goals in his past 12 games and his third multi-goal game this month.

"We know if it's close going into the third period that we have to rally around and get things going," Knuble said. "It's just in the third period we've really been able to go to another level. It's pretty impressive."

The Capitals have outscored opponents 19-3 in the third period during the winning streak, which, interestingly, began with a come-from-behind, 5-4 shootout victory over the Panthers on Jan. 13.

As impressive as Washington's run has been, there was still plenty of concern afterward for a player who has played a vital role.

Green was attempting to play the puck to himself off the board when he was lined up by Kulikov, who delivered a hard but clean hit to Green's chest.

"Mike might have actually been a little careless when he cut to the middle," said Boudreau, who said the hit was clean.

Green added: "It looked pretty clean. I tried to jump out of the way a little bit because I seen him coming. But it kind of caught my knee area."

Head athletic trainer Greg Smith trotted immediately onto the ice to tend to Green, who later clutched his right knee before being helped off the ice. He did not put any weight on his right leg.

The injury ended an eventful night for Green, who earlier in the game received a minor penalty for elbowing Michael Frolik in the head in open ice.

"I didn't mean to elbow him," Green said. "I might have got it up. I thought it was my shoulder."

Although Green didn't finish the game, he had a lot to do with the Capitals' fast start. With Panthers captain Bryan McCabe in the penalty box for roughing Tomas Fleischmann early in the first period, Nicklas Backstrom (goal, two assists) followed Knuble into the crease and poked Knuble's rebound past Vokoun. Green recorded his 40th assist on the goal.

Backstrom's goal, the 22nd of the season, matched the career high the third-year center set last season.

Only 4:22 into the second period, Stephen Weiss tied the game by banging in a cross-ice pass from Cory Stillman after the Capitals' fourth line got hemmed in its own end. Washington's Boyd Gordon had also lost his stick.

But Knuble helped the Capitals get another ugly goal 25 seconds later and take back the lead for good, 2-1. The play began with Tom Poti intercepting a bad pass in the neutral zone. Moments later, Backstrom fired a puck into Vokoun's chest, but the goalie was unable to squeeze it. The puck dribbled off his pad to Ovechkin, whose shot hit the toe of Knuble's skate in the crease.

"It's my linemates," said Knuble, who misfired on a late chance to record a hat trick. "You're talking about arguably two of the top young guys in the league, if not the world. Alex is probably the best player in the world and Nick is climbing the ladder."

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