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HOCKEY

Sens, Leafs meet for showdown in Ottawa

An important battle in the Eastern Conference playoff race is on tap Saturday in Canada's capital city, as the Ottawa Senators host the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Place.

These clubs enter Saturday separated by just one point in the crowded East standings, with Toronto sitting in fifth place with 53 points and the Senators one behind in sixth. With five tilts left on its schedule, Ottawa does hold a game in hand over the Maple Leafs.

After Ottawa comes the New York Islanders, who are one point further back in seventh place, while the New York Rangers are holding onto the eighth and final spot with 50 points. The Islanders are playing Saturday afternoon in Winnipeg, while the Rangers are idle ahead of Sunday's tilt against New Jersey.

The Maple Leafs can clinch a playoff spot if the Jets lose today to the Islanders and Toronto beats Ottawa in the evening.

Toronto has gotten the better of the Sens so far this season, winning three of the four encounters in 2013. The Maple Leafs have won five of six overall in the series and five of the last seven encounters in Ottawa.

The Leafs, who are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004, have four games left in the regular season and are beginning a three-game road trip on Saturday. Toronto is 11-7-3 as the visiting team this season and also will visit Tampa Bay and Florida before completing its schedule with next Saturday's home date against Montreal.

Toronto will try to halt a two-game slide after being outscored by a combined 10-4 margin in recent games against Washington and the Islanders. After losing Tuesday's 5-1 decision in D.C., the Leafs were handed a 5-3 setback two days later by the visiting Islanders.

John Tavares recorded two goals and had an assist to help the Isles overcome an early two-goal deficit to earn the win at Air Canada Centre.

Joffrey Lupul scored a goal and Phil Kessel had three assists for the Maple Leafs, who haven't lost three straight since an 0-3-2 slide from March 7-16.

"We've been a good team all year, we're just steering away from some things in our system and (individually) we're not out-competing or outplaying the guy across from us," Lupul said. "We already talked, there's going to be a lot of video (Friday) and we'll get back to basics and we'll fix it."

James Reimer allowed all five goals on 38 shots, dropping his record this season to 17-6-5.

Ottawa has won four straight games and is coming off Thursday's 3-1 win over the Capitals, who had won eight in a row prior to the loss at Scotiabank Place. Cory Conacher scored the go-ahead goal in the second period and Craig Anderson made 18 saves to lead the Senators to the win.

Kyle Turris scored twice for the Senators, who had lost five in a row before this current hot streak. Ottawa outshot the Capitals by a 38-19 margin in the victory.

"It always feels good to score, especially when you haven't got one in a while," said Turris. "This one felt real good because this was a big win against a team we might be facing in the playoffs."

Ottawa's star defenseman Erik Karlsson was cleared for contact on Friday and he could return to the lineup before the end of the regular season. Karlsson, last season's Norris Trophy winner, has been out since Feb. 13, when he sustained a severe cut to his left Achilles that required surgery to repair.

Karlsson, who has six goals and four assists in 14 games this season, was originally expected to miss six months of action due to the laceration, but he shocked everyone by resuming skating three weeks ago. Senators general manager Bryan Murray said Karlsson will be back in the lineup once he returns to game shape and that could be as early as next week.

The Senators are playing the third portion of a four-game homestand on Saturday and have a superb 15-3-3 record in Ottawa this season.