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Capitals make it 9 in a row with 4-1 win over Florida

by John Kreiser

The Florida Panthers are the latest team to try -- and fail -- to slow down the Washington Capitals and their high-powered attack.

The Eastern Conference leaders made it nine wins in a row as Mike Knuble scored twice and Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and two assists in a 4-1 win over the Panthers on Friday night.

The winning streak is the second-longest in franchise history, just short of the 10 straight won by the 1983-84 team. Washington has won 12 times in January to tie the team record for a month, set in December 1984. They can break that mark by beating TampaBay at on Sunday at the Verizon Center, where they are now an NHL-best 20-3-3.

The Capitals, the NHL's top offensive team, have outscored their opponents 44-19 during their nine-game streak. They beat the Panthers despite a quiet night from their big guns: Alex Ovechkin contributed an assist, and Alexander Semin extended his points streak to eight games but had just one assist as the Caps improved to 5-0 against Florida this season.

"They have such gifted goal scorers that it doesn't take them much time to get a shot off and score," Florida forward Cory Stillman said.

It wasn't that Florida didn't have chances -- the Panthers took 36 shots and forced rookie goaltender Michal Neuvirth to make a number of fine stops among his 35 saves.

"I thought we were lucky," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We gave up way too many chances. Neuvirth was outstanding, and sometimes when you get good goaltending, you overlook the mistakes."

Knuble agreed that this was far from his team's best effort.

"I don't think we came out and played particularly well," he said. "Still, we managed to get to the third (period), and we're playing with so much confidence, we know that if it's close in the third, we kind of rally around it and get things going."

But against a team as hot as the Capitals, you can't make any mistakes -- and Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said his team paid for the ones it made.

"Some of the decisions we made with the puck weren't very good," DeBoer said. "Against a team like that, unless you bring your A-plus game, they're going to make you look bad. And that's what happened."

Washington led just 2-1 after two periods. But defenseman Jeff Schultz made it 3-1 at 4:46 of the third by slamming a slap shot past screened goalie Tomas Vokoun. Knuble provided a three-goal cushion at 7:25.

"We got the third and then the fourth pretty quickly," Boudreau said. "That sort of stems the tide and makes it a lot easier to play.

Washington needed just 7:26 to get its offense rolling. With Florida's Bryan McCabe in the penalty box, Backstrom got his 22nd goal by stuffing a rebound past Vokoun for a 1-0 lead.

Florida tied it at 4:22 of the second period when Steven Weiss scored his team-high 20th goal of the season off a pass from Stillman. But Washington went ahead to stay just 25 seconds later when Ovechkin took a shot that tipped off the skate of Knuble, who was credited with the goal when the puck slid under Vokoun's pads.

"They're good at that," Florida's Cory Stillman said. "They rebound quickly. If you score, they're going to come right back. Unfortunately, they did it in 25 seconds -- and that's the game-winner tonight."

Knuble, who has settled in on a line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, now has 11 goals in his last 12 games.

"Alex is the best player in the world and Nick's climbing the ladder. I've just been able to find a way to play with these guys and complement them," said Knuble, who also had an assist. "We're clicking."

The win may have come with a price -- Washington lost standout defenseman Mike Green to an apparent left knee injury late in the second period. Green had to be helped off the ice after colliding with Dmitry Kulikov while pursuing of a loose puck.

"I assume he'll be playing Sunday," Boudreau said. "He came back out and felt fine, but we didn't want to take any chances. It was more of a charley horse than anything else.

Material from team media and wire services was used in this report

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