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The Philadelphia Flyers are in position to win three in a row for the first time since the middle of December. The prospect of having their captain and second-leading scorer back in the lineup may help reach that goal.

Mike Richards hopes to return after a three-game absence as the Flyers (28-15-9) host the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.

Richards, who has 50 points including a team-high 32 assists, has been sidelined with the flu. He has practiced over the last two days, and though he told the Flyers' official Web site on Wednesday that though he was still feeling ill, he expects to face the Senators.

Richards had two goals and four assists in his last five games before getting sick, and his possible return comes at a good time as Philadelphia appears to be bouncing back from a frustrating stretch.

After losing five of eight from Jan. 13-Feb. 4, Philadelphia has won two straight including a 3-2 victory over Atlanta on Sunday. Jeff Carter scored twice to push his team-leading total to 34, and the Flyers won their 14th in a row over the Thrashers.

Currently eight points behind Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey, Philadelphia hasn't posted a three-game winning streak since taking five in a row from Dec. 6-16.

A key to the Flyers' turnaround has been backup goaltender Antero Niittymaki. He made 29 saves in the win over the Thrashers, one day after coming on in relief of Martin Biron to stop all 22 shots faced through two periods and overtime of a 4-3 triumph over Eastern Conference-leading Boston.

"To me it's just a maturing thing for him," Flyers goaltending coach Reggie Lemelin said. "After four or five years that's when you hit your peak and that's where I think Niitty's coming into that."

Niittymaki is 13-4-4 with a 2.48 goals-against average this season. He's 1-1-0 with a 3.54 GAA in two starts against Ottawa, with the victory coming in Philadelphia on Dec. 23.

Ottawa (19-25-8), meanwhile, is coming off a home-and-home sweep of Buffalo, beating the Sabres 3-1 on Wednesday to open a stretch of five road games in seven days.

The Senators, who were blanked twice in an 0-3-1 stretch prior to their meetings against Buffalo, got a goal and assist from leading scorer Daniel Alfredsson to win consecutive games for only the sixth time this season and improve to 2-1-1 under new coach Cory Clouston.

Ottawa hasn't won three in a row this season.

"It's a very upbeat locker room right now," said Alfredsson, who has 48 points. "Initially, it's been a real big lift for us. We seem to generate more momentum for ourselves."

Alfredsson has three assists in two games versus Philadelphia this season.

Dany Heatley leads Ottawa with 22 goals, but hasn't scored in four straight. He has three goals in two games against the Flyers in 2008-09, giving him 12 in 22 career games.

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