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Thrashers visit Capitals, seek fifth straight win

By Anthony Giornalista

Stats Senior Writer

Atlanta (34-38-6) at Washington (47-23-8), 3:00 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Atlanta Thrashers have been doing an

excellent job of playing the role of spoiler down the stretch.

It's too late for them to hurt the Washington Capitals'

Southeast Division title hopes.

After clinching their second straight division championship, the

Capitals look to avoid a letdown against the surging Thrashers

in the opener of a home-and-home series Sunday.

There was a wild celebration last year after Washington finished

at the top of the Southeast with a win in its final

regular-season game.

This season, the Capitals (47-23-8) were much more subdued after

securing the division title despite losing to Buffalo, 5-4, in

overtime Friday night. Washington built a big early lead in the

Southeast, earning the fifth division title in its history with

four games to spare.

"Before the season started, we said we were going to win, and we

have one goal in mind," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said, "and

we aren't there yet."

Washington, trying to hold off New Jersey for second place in

the Eastern Conference, plays its next two against an Atlanta

team that continues to play hard even though it has been

eliminated from playoff contention.

The Thrashers (34-38-6) have won four straight and five of six,

including wins over the top three contenders for the last

playoff spot in the East. They beat Florida, 3-1, on Friday

night, Buffalo, 3-2, in overtime two days earlier and the New

York Rangers on March 26.

"We don't have the playoffs, so April 11 is our last game of the

season," Atlanta center Rich Peverley said. "I don't want to

stop playing hockey, but we have to. We're just trying to make

the most of it. It's too bad because we have a pretty good team

going forward."

The Thrashers have been competitive against the Capitals this

season, winning two of four contests. Atlanta, though, is 0-2

at Washington, allowing the Capitals to convert 41.7 percent

(5-for-12) of their power-play chances.

Atlanta's penalty-killing unit ranks near the bottom of the

league, stopping just 75.4 percent of its opponents' chances.

Washington, meanwhile, has a chance to lead the league in

power-play percentage for the first time in its history, taking

advantage of 25.6 percent of its opportunities.

The Capitals are 9-for-21 (42.9 percent) with the man advantage

in their last four games.

Alex Ovechkin scored on the power play versus the Sabres,

raising his league-leading goal total to 55. The star winger

has a seven-game points streak (six goals, nine assists) and has

45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 28 games versus Atlanta.

Peverley, meanwhile, had gone 10 straight games without a goal

for Atlanta before scoring two in the third period against the

Panthers.

The center carried the Thrashers offensively with winger Ilya

Kovalchuk's five-game goal streak coming to an end. Kovalchuk

has one goal and four assists in his last four games versus the

Capitals after being held off the scoresheet in the previous

three meetings.

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