SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 5: Dmitry Kulikov #7 is congratulated by Sean Bergenheim #20 and Brian Campbell #51 of the Florida Panthers after scoring a goal against the Washington Capitals on December 5, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Capitals Vs. Panthers: Panthers Pounce Early, Never Look Back In 5-4 Win Over Caps

The Caps made things interesting late, but the Panthers held on for a 5-4 win to give themselves a seven-point lead in the Southeast Division.

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Capitals Vs. Panthers: Panthers Pounce Early, Never Look Back In 5-4 Win Over Caps

Playing against a division rival, games are worth four points. For the Washington Capitals, a win over the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers would mean cutting their five-point deficit to three points. That didn't happen, though.

The Panthers pounced early and often, scoring three unanswered goals to start the game and holding on for a 5-4 victory over the Caps, extending their division lead to seven points.

Stephen Weiss scored twice for Florida, while Mike Santorelli, Sean Bergenheim and Dmitry Kulikov added goals of their own. Mike Knuble, Cody Eakin, Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera scored for Washington, who cut a 5-2 deficit to 5-4 late in the third period thanks to Chimera's deflection goal, but could not tie the game with Michal Neuvirth pulled in favor of an extra attacker.

The Caps had over 30 shots for the second straight game after only having 36 total in their first two games under Dale Hunter. The Panthers had 30 shots and Michal Neuvirth only stopped 25 of them.

Washington returns to action Wednesday against the team they beat Saturday at Verizon Center, the Ottawa Senators.

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Capitals Vs. Panthers: Florida Extends Lead To 5-2 After 40 Minutes

The Florida Panthers didn't score as many goals in the second period as they did in the first period at the Washington Capitals' expense, but things still aren't looking good for the visitors.

Sean Bergenheim and Stephen Weiss scored for the Panthers, but Cody Eakin stopped the proverbial bleeding with a late goal as the Caps trail the Panthers 5-2 after 40 minutes.

Bergenheim's goal came on the power play, giving the Panthers three power play goals. It's the second time this season that the Caps have allowed three power play goals. Tomas Fleischmann made the Caps look foolish when he drove wide on Michal Neuvirth and drew all five Caps on the ice before passing to an open Weiss at 12:11. It was Weiss' second goal of the game.

Eakin scored another late goal for the Caps when he took Mathieu Perreault's centering pass from behind the net and beat Scott Clemmensen high for his third goal of the season.

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Panthers Vs. Capitals: Panthers Pounce On Caps Early, Lead 3-1 After 20 Minutes

Perhaps the Florida Panthers really wanted to see Tomas Vokoun.

The Panthers pounced on Michal Neuvirth and Washington Capitals early and scored three unanswered goals to take a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes.

Stephen Weiss gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead at 6:50 on the power play. With Mathieu Perreault in the penalty box for high sticking, Brian Campbell fed Weiss, whose slap shot deflected off Dennis Wideman's stick and over Neuvirth's shoulder for his 10th goal of the season.

On the ensuing faceoff, Mike Santorelli took a pass from Dmitry Kulikov, drove down the right side and fired what seemed like a harmless snap shot. Yet, that harmless shot beat Neuvirth and just 13 seconds after Weiss' goal, the Panthers had a 2-0 lead.

Kulikov scored a goal of his own at 16:31 to give Florida its second power play goal of the night and a 3-0 lead. Luckily for Washington, Mike Knuble responded when his slap shot beat Scott Clemmensen five-hole for his third goal of the season and first in 16 games 40 seconds after Kulikov's goal.

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Panthers Vs. Capitals: Michal Neuvirth To Start, Alex Semin's Status Uncertain

The Florida Panthers had been promoting the return of Tomas Vokoun in an effort to hype their game against the Washington Capitals Monday, but much to their chagrin, Michal Neuvirth will start in goal for the Caps, according to The Washington Post's Tarik El-Bashir.

Neuvirth made 32 saves in Saturday's 3-2 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators, so when asked why he would receive the start despite Vokoun's homecoming, head coach Dale Hunter said that it was nothing more than a simple decision:

"It's just a choice; there's not much to explain," Hunter said. "Me and Dave Prior talked about it and thought it was a good way to go."

Meanwhile, Alexander Semin took part in morning skate and Hunter said Semin is "ready to go," but which forward will sit will be a game-time decision.

For more on Monday's game, follow this StoryStream throughout the day. For more on the Caps, visit SB Nation's Caps blog, Japers' Rink.

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Capitals Vs. Panthers: In First Road Game Under Dale Hunter, Caps Look To Gain Ground In Southeast Division

The Caps will face the Southeast Division-leading Panthers Monday in their first road game under Dale Hunter.

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