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Senators can clinch playoff berth by beating 'Canes

by John Kreiser

HURRICANES (33-35-9) at SENATORS (42-30-5)

Last 10
-- Carolina 5-4-1; Ottawa 5-5-0

Season series -- It's the fourth and final meeting between the teams in a series that's been dominated by the home teams. Ottawa won 4-2 at Scotiabank Place on Dec. 12, while the Hurricanes beat the 4-1 at the RBC Center on Jan. 12 and again on March 4.

Big story -- The crowd at Scotiabank Place will be ready to celebrate -- the Senators are one point away from a return to the playoffs after missing the postseason in 2008-09, ending an 11-year run. Ottawa's six-game winning streak, including Tuesday's 5-4 OT win at Washington, has the Senators comfortably in fifth place in the East and apparently headed for a meeting with the Atlantic Division runner-up.

The Hurricanes, who made it to the Eastern Conference Final last spring, are all but out of the playoff race -- they're still seven points behind eighth-place Montreal, even after a 2-1 win over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Wednesday.

Team Scope:

Hurricanes -- A poor start has all but assured the Hurricanes of an early summer, but they're not going quietly -- as the Canadiens found out Wednesday when Cam Ward held Carolina in the game early and goals by Brandon Sutter and Eric Staal turned his 34-save performance into two points.

"You never can say never and obviously the standings don't look like they're in our favor but mathematically we're not out of it and you've got to come to the rink and compete," Ward said of his team's playoff chances. "At the end of the day this is what we get paid to do and you've got to wear that jersey with some pride and compete."

Senators -- After their string of playoff appearances ended last season, the Senators dedicated themselves to making sure it didn't happen again. They're about to redeem that promise.

"Last year, we let a lot of people down and let ourselves down, not being able to compete for the Stanley Cup," forward Chris Kelly told the team's Web site. "To be one win away from being where we want to be is definitely a good feeling."

Who's hot -- Ward has stopped 60 of 62 shots to win his two games since missing 19 with a back injury. … Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson had four assists Tuesday to extend his point streak to eight games. Linemate Jason Spezza comes off a four-point night (2 goals, 2 assists) against the Caps.

Injury report -- Carolina defensemen Tim Gleason (foot) and Alexandre Picard (upper body) are still out. Forward Tuomo Ruutu is gone for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. … Ottawa is without goal-scoring co-leader Milan Michalek and top-scoring defenseman Filip Kuba; both are still day-to-day with lower-body injuries.

Stat pack -- Ottawa has won the last four meetings between the teams at  Scotiabank Place, outscoring the Hurricanes 18-6. Ottawa goaltender is 2-0-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average at home against Carolina, while Ward has lost his last three starts in Ottawa.

Puck drop -- The Senators and their fans are ready to celebrate the team's return to the playoffs. But don't expect the Hurricanes to roll over -- the 'Canes may have doomed their postseason hopes with a slow start, but they've been among the NHL's best teams during the past two months and won't concede until they're officially out of the chase.

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