SUNRISE, Fla. — The red light was on and Mike Knuble’s arms were in the air. Back in the building he scored his last goal, all the way back on Dec. 5, the Washington Capitals alternate captain had his moment of triumph.
That moment lasted perhaps 10 seconds, as his would-be goal late in the second period against the Florida Panthers was waved off for goaltender interference and Knuble was escorted to the penalty box. It has been that kind of season for the 39-year-old, whose latest torment included three straight games as a healthy scratch.
“It’s almost not shocking when it’s waved off,” Knuble said. “In that respect, it’s how it’s going.”
Replays clearly showed that Knuble’s goal should have counted, though that’s a moral victory he wasn’t willing to accept. But thanks to a big assist in the third period and some confidence being back in his “office” around the crease, Knuble could take solace even in a goal that won’t go toward his season total.
“There’s no doubt it’s frustrating, but at the same time, you’ve got to try and say to yourself, ‘You know what? You’re in the right spot.’ You get those old feelings back that you’re in the right spot and where you’re supposed to be,” he said. “You try and turn it into a positive and be like, ‘Yeah, I’m where I’m supposed to be,’ and I can talk about it and that, but you want to show that that’s where you’re going to hang out and that’s where you’re going to be.”
That’s exactly where Knuble was on Ovechkin’s tying power-play goal in the third. Coach Dale Hunter admitted it’s a “fine line” between crashing the net enough to create traffic but not too much that it leads to penalties.
Knuble walked that line well in helping to distract Panthers goalie Jose Theodore.
“It’s just being around the net and puck is bouncing around and it ends up kind of hitting you there,” Knuble said. “Marcus [Johansson] kind of shot it, I got a stick on it and their guy kind of slides and you’re just creating a little bit of a cluster in front. And then it bounces around and all of a sudden it’s on Alex’s stick.”
The puck was on Knuble’s stick late in the second period thanks to a shot from Brooks Laich. Knuble tipped it past Theodore. But referee Eric Furlatt ruled it goaltender interference. In disagreeing with Furlatt, Ovechkin pointed to a non-call against Florida defenseman Brian Campbell earlier.
“I think it was a bad call for referee but everybody make mistakes. Before that, Campbell [takes] my stick and [he’s] holding it so I cant get the puck; I said, ‘Why you didn’t see that? Why you see the Knubs out there, like he didn’t even touch Theo,’ ” Ovechkin said. “But again it was a call and again we [were not frustrated]; we know it was going to come because we have lots of shots on net and we have lots of room to score.”
Plenty of time was the message team-wide. Hunter termed it “a hockey call,” and though Jeff Halpern admitted it bothered the Caps, they didn’t let it affect them.
“That’s hockey. We’ve all been through it,” forward Jay Beagle said. “And right away we were saying on the bench, ‘Keep our heads up, it’s fine. Keep battling and good things are going to happen.’ And we won.”
Thanks in large part to Knuble’s assist on Ovechkin’s goal and then Alexander Semin’s winner.
For the veteran right wing, who was frustrated by his time out of the lineup, this was some semblance of redemption.
“It’s nice to come in. You come in as a player and you think about, you don’t dwell on what has happened this season,” Knuble said. “You’ve got to look at the present right now because that’s the most important thing for us is to try to get in the playoffs. And you think as a player, ‘How am I going to help this team when I’m in there?’ And you try and do those things. I was happy to get a bounce or two tonight.”
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