- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 8, 2009

Three games ago, Mike Knuble took a bad penalty in the third period. And two games ago, he was one of several veterans coach Bruce Boudreau wasn’t happy with after a loss Wednesday in New Jersey.

Well, Knuble followed up a strong performance Friday night in South Florida with a dominant one Saturday at Verizon Center. Knuble had two goals and four points in a 7-4 victory against the Florida Panthers.

“It is about time - and I don’t mean that in a bad way,” Boudreau said. “He works so hard, and he hasn’t been rewarded for it. To see him get rewarded like that is good, and in the end the good guys win out.”

Tomas Fleischmann also had two goals as the Caps swept a home-and-home with the Panthers. With his team down 3-2 at the second intermission, Boudreau tweaked his top two lines, and the reconfigured unit of Fleischmann, Knuble and Nicklas Backstrom combined for three goals in the final 20 minutes to blow open what had been a seesaw affair.

“We got different guys that can play together,” Knuble said. “You just try to fit in where you can and play. Tomas, I’m really impressed with his hands around the net and his ability to finish. When he gets a quality chance, it is going in. Obviously, Nick is the passer that he is. They are fun guys to play with.”

Even though the Caps were missing two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green, who led all defensemen in goals and points last season, offense was not a problem on this night. The Caps exploded for five goals in the third period - their most in a period since netting six in the first period of a 10-2 win against Boston on March 3, 2008.

A wild final 20 minutes began with Mathieu Perreault’s first NHL goal at 2:21. Perreault stole the puck from rookie defenseman Dmitry Kulikov behind the Panthers’ net and then stuffed it inside the right post to even the score at 3-3.

Perreault, a sixth-round pick in 2006, has three points in three games.

“I got the puck, and I knew the goalie was on the wrong side [of the net]. I just tried to stuff it between his legs, and it worked out,” Perreault said. “This is what I am - I am an offensive player, so it is especially good for me to get a couple of points.”

Quintin Laing briefly gave Washington the lead 40 seconds later. Matt Bradley threw a centering pass in front from the right corner, and Laing poked it past Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen, who yielded seven goals on 32 shots.

Laing stopped a slap shot with his ribs in the first period and then had his nose bloodied and swollen in the second, but he registered his second of the season.

“Bruce has been preaching going to the net, going to the net, throwing pucks to the net,” Laing said. “I don’t think our line is going to score too many tic-tac-toe goals. We’re just going to get them by going to the net and going there with our sticks on the [ice].”

Cory Stillman made it 4-4 at 5:09, but Fleischmann put home the rebound of a Backstrom wraparound try at 7:22 to edge the Caps back in front. Knuble gave Washington the first two-goal advantage of the night when he deflected a Shaone Morrisonn shot from the left point past Clemmensen for his second marker of the evening at 11:06.

Fleischmann added his second of the night at 13:38 on a pass from Knuble to make it 7-4. Fleischmann has scored five goals in his past five games; he has played just six this year after missing the start of the season with a blood clot in his left leg.

“I expected [the hot start]. I am a really huge believer in Tomas Fleischmann,” Boudreau said. “I knew how strong he was and how good of shape he was in.”

The Panthers entered the weekend on a three-game winning streak but will leave it with a stern reminder of who has been in charge of the Southeast Division since Boudreau took over in November 2008. Florida had a chance to get within five points of the Ovechkin-less Caps, but instead Washington’s lead is seven points on second-place Tampa Bay and 13 on the Panthers.

“We were a little irritated in the locker room after the second. I think we felt we were being outplayed a bit,” Knuble said after the Panthers held a 3-2 lead through 40 minutes. “I think we all wanted to make sure we came out better in the third. We struck really quick, and the crowd got back into it and we just kind of overwhelmed them.”

• Corey Masisak can be reached at cmasisak@washingtontimes.com.

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