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Capitals-Hurricanes Preview @NHLdotcom

With time running out in the regular season, the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes hope a brief layoff will help them get back into the postseason.

Carolina will try to break a tie for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot when they play host to the Washington Capitals on Thursday night.

The Hurricanes (36-29-8) have 80 points and are tied with Montreal and Toronto for eighth place in the East. All three teams are one point ahead of the New York Islanders, who are in 11th place.

The Canadiens complete a home-and-home series with Boston while the Isles play host to Pittsburgh on Thursday. The Maple Leafs don't play again until Friday night at East-leading Buffalo in start of a home-and-home set.

Carolina, meanwhile, returns to the ice after a four-day layoff since a 7-2 win over New Jersey on Saturday.

"It was important for us because we have four days off where we sit idle," said Carolina forward Ray Whitney, who had a goal and an assist in the four-goal second period. "Where we sit now, and four days from now, could be totally different."

Despite beating the Atlantic Division-leading Devils, Carolina is struggling. Since Jan. 18, the Hurricanes have won consecutive games only twice, and have alternated wins and losses in their last eight games.

Continued production from the Hurricanes' Chad LaRose could provide a spark. He was switched to center from right wing against the Devils and responded with the first two-goal game of his career.

"He came in and provided a spark with his skating and his tenacity," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said of the second-year player.

Facing Washington, which is in last place in the Southeast Division and tied for the Eastern Conference-low with 10 road wins, doesn't make the Hurricanes feel more confident.

"I think when you see a team that's out of the playoffs and trying to play a spoiler, they can take more chances," Hurricanes forward Cory Stillman told the team's official Web site. "I think you see a different game on that side than you would with two teams battling for the seventh or eighth or sixth or seventh spot."

The Capitals (26-35-13) were unable to keep up their impressive scoring output during two straight wins, falling 5-2 to Buffalo on Wednesday night. Brian Pothier scored his third goal and Donald Brashear his fourth for the Caps, who never led.

"They just played well. We didn't score," said Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, who leads the team with 41 goals and 43 assists but was held without a point for a third consecutive game. He has five goals - three on the power play - in seven games against Carolina this season.

Alexander Semin has scored seven of his career-high 37 goals against the 'Canes in 2006-07.

Olaf Kolzig, playing his fourth game after missing more than a month with a knee injury, made 26 saves against the Sabres. He's allowed only 11 goals while posting a 3-1-0 record this season versus the Hurricanes, but has allowed six goals in each of his last two losses at the RBC Center.

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