SENATORS (23-16-6) at CAPITALS (26-18-2)
TV: TSN, TVA, CSN-DC
Last 10: Ottawa 4-6-0; Washington 9-1-0
Season series: This is the third of three meetings between the clubs this season. Ottawa won the first two in regulation, including a 3-1 victory a week ago. It's Washington's only loss in the previous 11 games
Big story: The Senators will clinch a playoff berth with a win of any kind. They also will have star defenseman Erik Karlsson, last season's Norris Trophy winner, back in the lineup for the first time since he went down with an Achilles tendon injury on Feb. 13.
Senators: The streaky Senators come into Verizon Center riding a two-game losing streak in which they have been outscored by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins by a combined 7-2.
Starting with its game on March 23, Ottawa has had separate winning streaks of three games and four games as well as a five-game losing streak. If the Senators stop their current losing streak at two games they will clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Ottawa, though, is not in a must-win situation. It needs two points over its final three games to clinch.
As mentioned above, the other big story around the Senators these days (you know, the one that doesn't have to do with clinching a playoff berth), is the potential return of Karlsson, who was originally thought to be done for the season when his Achilles tendon was sliced by Matt Cooke's skate.
He was back with his regular defense partner, Marc Methot, in practice Wednesday.
"I don't know if [Karlsson will play Thursday]," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. "There's always a chance, yes. But at this point he practiced in a regular turn [Wednesday] so that's another step in the process and we'll see where it goes [Thursday]."
Capitals: The Capitals clinched the Southeast Division on Tuesday with a 5-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets, but the last thing they want to do is slow down and soak in their accomplishments.
They're on too good of a run now to let it stop before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. That's why coach Adam Oates wasn't reveling in the accomplishment Tuesday.
"I don't think many of us thought we'd come this far, but we obviously put some really good hockey together," Oates said after the Capitals won Tuesday. "The guys have grown and it's obviously a good feeling right now. We go right back to work."
Washington is 14-2-1 since March 21. Alex Ovechkin, who had a goal and an assist Tuesday, has 10 multi-point efforts in the past 17 games. He has 29 points, including 19 goals, over the span.
Who's hot: Ovechkin is on fire, but he's not alone. His linemate, Nicklas Backstrom, scored Tuesday and has 25 points in the past 17 games. The Capitals' third line got a pair of goals Tuesday, one each from Jason Chimera and Mathieu Perreault.
Injury report: Karlsson is the big question mark. Ottawa is also without Jason Spezza (back) and Mike Hoffman (collarbone). For Washington, Brooks Laich (groin), Joel Ward (knee) and Tom Poti (back) are out.
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