The Washington Times - May 6, 2011, 12:29AM

Mike Knuble is the man who stands up in the Capitals dressing room after every loss and takes the heat more so than anyone else. He’s a veteran leader whose presence with Washington cannot possibly be appreciated.

And even that point now might be an understatement given what the 38-year-old right wing went through to play in the Lightning series.

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Knuble broke his right thumb in Game 3 against the Rangers about five seconds before he scored a goal, when a shot from Mike Green hit him in front of the net.

“It shattered and I went in and four pins put in that night and then they tucked them,” Knuble said.

Ouch.

Knuble finished the game. Then, after missing Games 4 and 5 and then Game 1 against Tampa Bay, he returned about a week before Bruce Boudreau said the team expected.

“[The pins] are still in there, they tuck them under the skin and it’s like a couple of injections before each game,” Knuble said. “I felt it didn’t slow me down much at all. There were moments when it would really bite, but ultimately once you braced it, it held up pretty good.”

Knuble was arguably the Caps’ most consistent skater in the Lightning series when he did return to the lineup, showing some intangible qualities that his coach praised him for.

“The bravest guy I gotta believe is Mike Knuble who had a broken thumb and had pins in his hand and came back and showed such courage in the effort that he put forth,” Boudreau said.

All in a season’s work for Knuble, who is the Caps’ heart-and-soul leader on and off the ice. He couldn’t even shoot in practice without being helped out by medicine but was dying to get back on the ice especially after his team fell behind in the series.

Say whatever you want about Washington’s performance at-large, but Knuble could be the last man at fault for the sweep.

As far as long-term ramifications and risks, Knuble thought about it but understood doctors would keep him out if he could really endanger himself. Of course, he’s a hockey player – and he wasn’t going to let the Caps go down without leading a fight.

“There’s always a risk. I guess ultimately you run a risk when you play coming back before it’s broken of causing more damage and opening up another whole can of worms as far as repairs,” he said. “But you weigh those options and then you just play as a player and you probably expect probably your teammates to do the same if they’re in the same situation.”