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Capitals-Thrashers Preview

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Now that they've clinched their first playoff berth, the Atlanta Thrashers are eyeing their first division title.

Atlanta will try to take a step closer to its first Southeast crown when it meets the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night.

With 93 points, the Thrashers (41-27-11) have a one-point lead over second-place Tampa Bay, which is idle Wednesday. Those teams will meet for the final time in the regular season on Saturday.

Keith Tkachuk, a 15-year veteran, has been one of the keys to Atlanta's surge to the division lead.

"You need experience. I don't care what team you're on. You need experienced guys that have been around," Tkachuk said on the Thrashers' official Web site. "We have a lot of guys that have won Stanley Cups. That's huge.

"We have so many guys it makes it comfortable. It makes everybody accountable and that's what we need around here. If we play the way we're capable of playing the sky's the limit."

Tkachuk, acquired from St. Louis in February just before the NHL trading deadline, has seven goals - three of them game-winners - and five assists in 15 games. His goal with 18.6 seconds to play in the third period lifted Atlanta to a 3-2 victory over Boston on Saturday.

"Everybody knows the situation we're in and it's tight," Tkachuk said. "We have to work for it - you can't rely on other teams. We want to win the division title, so every game now is a must win."

Alexei Zhitnik, a 14-year veteran defenseman acquired from Philadelphia in a separate deal prior to the deadline, assisted on Tkachuk's latest game-winner and has two goals and 12 assists with his new team. Atlanta had lost six of seven before swinging the deals, but has gone 10-4-1 since.

Greg de Vries and Ilya Kovalchuk also scored and Kari Lehtonen made 25 saves to snap a personal three-game slide. Lehtonen has yet to lose to Washington (27-39-14) in regulation this season, posting a 3-0-2 record with a 2.69 goals-against average against the Caps.

Kovalchuk needs one goal for 200 in his career and his third straight 40-goal season. The top overall pick in 2001 has registered a point in each game versus the Capitals this season, totaling four goals and seven assists.

Washington snapped a six-game slide with a 1-0 win over Florida on Tuesday night. Alexander Ovechkin's 44th goal of the season provided the offense, and Olag Kolzig made 11 of his 27 saves in the third period for his first shutout since February 2004.

"Olaf did an unbelievable job and saved the game," Ovechkin said of Kolzig, who went 126 starts between shutouts. "He does unbelievable things."

Ovechkin, the reigning Calder Trophy winner, needs just four points in his final three games to reach 200 for his career and is facing the team he's scored the most points against this season. In seven games versus Atlanta, Ovechkin has 12 points, including seven goals.

The Capitals are 2-3-2 in the season series.

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