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Recap: Caps 4, Panthers 1

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[AP Recap - GameCenter - Game Summary - Event Summary]

The scary thing about a winning streak like this one is that little voice reminding us that, eventually, a loss has to come. At the same time, the beauty of a winning streak like this is an oddly parallel feeling of invincibility - no matter what the circumstances, no matter how a game is going, the team can and will find a way to win.

Tonight was one of those rollercoaster nights, a game that could have gone bad so many times. And yet, as has been the case so frequently throughout this unreal stretch, something good always seemed to happen just in time.

The Panthers carried the play for much of the first period...and there was Nicklas Backstrom, picking up goal #22 to stake the home team to the lead. Florida struck back in the second to tie it up...and there was Mike Knuble's foot, deflecting an Alex Ovechkin shot into the net to reclaim that lead just 25 seconds later. And just as the team lost its star defenseman to injury...there was the offense to blow the roof off a tight game and capture another win.

Ten more notes on the game:

  • Mike Knuble continues to rack up points at a ridiculous rate, picking up his 17th and 18th goals tonight and adding an assist for good measure. That gives him goals in three straight. six of his last eight and an impressive eight goals during this nine-game win streak. The absence of a hat trick just doesn't seem to matter much anymore, does it?
  • It was a slightly off night for a lot of forwards, but Backstrom wasn't one of them - and so rarely seems to be these days. The young Swede seemed to be running at full power most of the night, picking up a goal, two assists, seven shots on goal (2 more than Ovechkin), a +2, 2 hits and a blocked shot for good measure.
  • Good things come in threes, right? Capping off a nice night for the top line was the man between the pipes, Michal Neuvirth, who turned aside 35 of 36 shots en route to his 8th win of the season. We even got to see a bit of that flashy glove late in the game on what had to be his prettiest save of the year.
  • Such a strange night for Mike Green. First he funnels his frustration at being hit by Stillman into a borderline but dangerous elbow to the head of Michael Frolik, then is injured on an accidental leg-on-leg hit by Dmitry Kulikov. And of course he picked up a nice assist along the way, too.
  • Speaking of Kulikov, upon further viewing that hit certainly seems neither intentional nor suspension-worthy - but it's puzzling as to why that wasn't at least a minor penalty. Intentional or not, we've seen that called on others (*cough*Ovechkin*cough*). 
  • After providing some scorching and timely offense over the past few games, Alexander Semin and his friends on the second line were relatively quiet tonight and seemed a bit off. Some of that seemed to be due to some great positional play that rendered the line incapable of finding time, space or flow.
  • They didn't show up much on the scoresheet - in fact, save for a few shots here and there it's hard to tell they even played - but the third line had some jump and a bit of an edge to their game tonight. Jason Chimera's presence on that line has really created something that is, at the very least, fun to watch.
  • When a goalie is hot, he's going to stop everything he sees. Good for the Caps - all of them - for going to the front of the net time and time again. Deflections, screens, rebounds - that was the story for tonight, and it's a big reason why the streak goes to 9.
  • With Jeff Schultz's "blast" from the point, every member of the Caps has now scored at least once in the last 13 games. Per Caps' PR guru Nate Ewell: "Boyd Gordon hasn't scored in his last 9 GP (the team's last 12) - that's the longest drought in the lineup." So Tampa, consider this your warning - #15's coming for you.
  • For the second time in two games the Caps took a tight game into the third and broke it wide open, first with Schultz's tally at 4:46 and then again with Knuble's clincher about two minutes later. Nothing wrong with finishing strong, folks.
The importance of a win like this one should never be underestimated. Not because it gave them the second-longest winning streak in franchise history. Not because it extended their lead in the division or maintained their lead in the conference. And certainly not because it was a great effort that was particularly worthy of two points.

It was important for the scare, the jolt, the reminder that no game is an easy two points. It was a scrappy win, one that came about because of timely offense and stellar goaltending. The offense was there for the Caps but the goals had to come out of hard work and dirty plays rather than the pretty passing sequences we've become accustomed to.

In short it was a gritty, ugly, nasty win - and exactly the kind of win this team needs to help them get to the next one and beyond.

Game highlights: