By JEFF BARTL
(AP) -- If not for the rule of every division winner automatically making the playoffs, the weak Southeast Division may not have a postseason qualifier among it.
The Washington Capitals, though, are doing all they can to prove they belong.
Washington looks to extend its winning streak to seven by earning a fifth consecutive home victory over the slumping Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.
The Southeast winner will eventually be the Eastern Conference's No. 3 playoff seed and have accompanying home-ice advantage in the first round, though that team's point total may not be any better than that of the final postseason qualifiers.
The Capitals (22-17-2) currently are atop the division, two points ahead of second-place Winnipeg, in large part because of their surge.
They're currently in the midst of their longest winning streak since beginning 2011-12 on a seven-game run and have gone 10-1-1 over their last 12 - a stretch that began with a two-game road sweep of the Jets on March 21 and 22.
Washington improved to 13-3-0 versus the Southeast with Thursday's 3-1 win over Carolina. It is 9-14-2 against the rest of the conference but is focused on winning its fifth division crown in six years to avoid being left out of the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07.
Following Saturday's contest, only one of their remaining six games - an April 23rd showdown with Winnipeg - is within the division.
"Because of our division and the way the points are falling right now, it might be a division lead or we're out of the playoffs," said Troy Brouwer, whose two goals Thursday snapped a five-game streak without a point. "We've put ourselves in a great situation to make the playoffs and have home-ice advantage in the first round. I don't think after those first games when we were 2-8-1 anyone would have guessed this."
Washington was seven points behind then-division leaders Winnipeg and Carolina on March 19 before beginning its current hot stretch.
"It's funny how things kind of work themselves around," Brouwer said.
The Capitals are 13-1-1 in their last 15 home matchups with Tampa Bay, which tried to spark a turnaround to its season by firing coach Guy Boucher and bringing in John Cooper on March 25.
Cooper is 4-3-1 since taking over, but his vow to take the team to the postseason may not be a possibility anymore.
The Lightning (17-21-2) have dropped three of four and are eight points behind the New York Rangers and Winnipeg for the East's final spot after falling 6-3 to conference-leading Pittsburgh on Thursday despite two goals from Teddy Purcell.
"We just have a lot of things to learn," Cooper said. "They have a mentality right now and you're not going to change it overnight. We were passing up an 'A' opportunity for a 'B' opportunity, and that's the mentality we have to get out of our heads."
Tampa Bay dealt Washington one of its few defeats within the division, 6-3 on Jan. 19 behind two goals and an assist from Martin St. Louis. The Capitals have won the two meetings since, including 4-2 on Sunday as Alex Ovechkin scored twice.
Braden Holtby, winner of four straight starts while posting a 1.96 goals-against average, could be in net for Washington.
The Lightning are likely to counter with Ben Bishop, who is 1-3-0 with a 3.53 GAA over his last four.
Updated April 12, 2013