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Senators stop Caps, clinch playoff spot

WASHINGTON (AP) - Sergei Gonchar scored a power-play goal 47 seconds into overtime on Erik Karlsson's second assist of his sooner-than-anticipated return from a torn Achilles tendon, and the Ottawa Senators clinched a playoff berth by beating the Washington Capitals 2-1 Thursday night.

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Ottawa had lost its previous two games.

``I'm just glad to put all the doubters behind us,'' said Craig Anderson, who made 19 saves. ``We lost a couple games there ... and I think that was kind of the talk: Are we going to fold the tent and go home? But I think we all kind of strapped on the belt and went to work and found ways to make people believers.''

The only shot that got past him was Alex Ovechkin's NHL-leading 32nd goal, which tied the game 8 1/2 minutes into the third period.

But ex-Capitals defenseman Gonchar took a pass from Karlsson and put the winner past Michal Neuvirth, who made 39 saves.

``I would have been happy if I sat in the stands and we would have won this game, as well, I think, and that's the main goal,'' Karlsson said. ``I'm going to have to work on my stuff, and as long as this team keeps winning, I'm going to be happy.''

Jakob Silfverberg deflected in Karlsson's shot 12:35 into the second period to give Ottawa a 1-0 lead against the Southeast Division champion Capitals, who had nothing at stake. They already are locked into the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The overtime wins by the Senators and New York Rangers eliminated the Winnipeg Jets from the playoff chase.

The Senators, who have two games left, moved up to sixth in the East. If they remain there, Ottawa would face the Capitals, who have won 10 of 12 overall - with the only losses against the Senators.

Ottawa won all three regular-season matchups against the Capitals.

``If we end up playing them, we'll be ready,'' Washington's first-year coach Adam Oates said.

The Capitals secured their sixth consecutive playoff appearance by clinching the division title with a 5-3 victory over Winnipeg on Tuesday.

Silfverberg briefly stayed down on the ice with about three minutes left after appearing to take a glove to the face from Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy. No penalty was called.

But Capitals forward Mike Ribeiro was sent to the box twice in the final five minutes of regulation, and teammate Jason Chimera was given a 10-minute misconduct in the last minute. The game was chippy throughout, including a scrum involving eight players along the boards earlier in the third period. The first period had a handful of near-fights and some late hits.

For Karlsson, last season's Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's top defenseman, this was his first game since Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke stepped on the back of his leg on Feb. 13.

Karlsson originally was expected to miss the rest of the season after surgery, but recently returned to practice. In all, he sat out 31 games, but now is back in time to get into game shape ahead of the playoffs.

He showed just how valuable he is. Just inside the blue line, he shook his stick to get the attention of Milan Michalek, whose pass was strongly one-timed by Karlsson toward the net. The puck was redirected by Silfverberg.

Less than three minutes later, Washington's Troy Brouwer got an open look, but his shot was kicked away by Anderson.

With Ottawa still trying to protect its 1-0 lead, Ovechkin scored his fourth goal in three games, but his first point against Ottawa in three games this season.

He gathered the puck near the boards on the right side - Oates moved him from left wing - and swept in front of the net with defenseman Chris Phillips riding his back, before flipping a backhander past Anderson.

Nearly seated on the ice afterward, Ovechkin spun around and kissed his glove, while fans responded with loud chants of ``M-V-P!''

NOTES: It was Ovechkin's 600th NHL game. ... Ottawa will play at home against Philadelphia on Saturday, and at the Bruins on Sunday in a game rescheduled because of the Boston Marathon bombings. ... The Capitals will finish the regular season Saturday against visiting Boston. ... The Capitals announced that individual game tickets for the first three possible home games of the playoffs will go on sale Friday. ... Karlsson led NHL defensemen with 19 goals and 78 points last season. He had six goals and 10 points in 14 games this season before Thursday.

---

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Copyright 2018 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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