Skids by the Capitals, Flyers and Avalanche have altered the NHL's playoff race

When April began, the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers looked on track to make the playoffs and the Colorado Avalanche had a good shot at winning the Central Division.

Not so much anymore, with the losses cascading down like spring showers.

The Capitals have lost their past six games, the Flyers their past seven and the Avalanche have dropped three of their past four. Playoff races around the NHL have since flipped, with Pittsburgh, Detroit and the New York Islanders picking up the pieces in the Eastern Conference and Dallas widening its lead atop the Central and in line for home-ice advantage until at least the Stanley Cup Final.

“When you’re in a winning streak, it feels like you can do no wrong and you can’t miss,” Capitals leading scorer Dylan Strome said Monday. “And when you’re in a losing streak, it feels like bounces just aren’t going your way, the possible offsides aren’t going your way, the penalty calls aren’t going your way. That’s what it’s like when you get into a little bit of a losing streak.”

All three teams are running out of time to turn things around, with just over a week left in the regular season.


Only two of the East's playoff slots remain through Sunday's games (New York Rangers, Carolina, Boston, Tampa Bay, Florida and Toronto have all clinched). The Flyers and Capitals look more primed for golfing than playing hockey in late April. Philadelphia has been outscored 33-15 during its skid, with four of the losses coming against non-playoff opponents.

“We can’t get discouraged,” Flyers coach John Tortorella said. "No one is going to help us out of this, and being discouraged is not going to help it. We’ve just got to stay positive.”

Washington has blown a late lead in its past two defeats, with 1:51 left at Carolina on Friday and 7:17 remaining against lowly Ottawa on Sunday. Out of a possible 12 points, the Caps have picked up two to drop to 10th in the conference, behind the Islanders, Red Wings and Penguins.

“The frustrating part is you’re winning game (with) five, six minutes left in the game, and you don’t get it done,” All-Star winger Tom Wilson said. “That’s the frustrating part right now, but I think the care is there, the battle level there and we’re going to doing everything we can to push this thing over the line and into the playoffs.”

The Islanders have won four in a row and six of eight to vault into third place in the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins, even after trading winger Jake Guentzel to the Hurricanes, are also back in the race — one point back of Detroit for the second wild-card spot.

“We have belief and confidence in each other and just take one game at a time and keep trying to stay alive," center Lars Eller said. "There’s no quit in this group. We have bad games once in a while, but there’s no quit.”


Dallas, Colorado, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Edmonton have already clinched and Los Angeles, Nashville and defending champion Vegas look ready to complete the West bracket. The order, of course, could change a lot before the first round begins April 20.

The Stars winning nine of their past 10 have put them nine points ahead of the Avalanche and just on the heels of the New York Rangers in the Presidents' Trophy race. Colorado coach Jared Bednar called Dallas “a different animal” than other opponents his team has faced.

The Avalanche have struggled to defend and in their past three games allowed 37, 47 and 46 shots, putting undue pressure on goaltenders Alexandar Georgiev and Justus Annunen. The depth that helped them win the Cup in 2022 has eroded and, despite Nathan MacKinnon willing them to win most nights as part of an MVP-caliber season, they don't look like a championship contender at the moment.

“I think it happens all the time through the course of the season, so it’s not like overly concerning," Bednar said. “We’re in a fight to try and get home ice here now. We’ve got some big games coming up. So we want to make sure we’re fixing it and the most important thing is that it’s fixed and we get more consistent at playing the way we want to play for the playoffs.”

In the Pacific Division, Connor McDavid's Oilers are giving Vancouver a run for first place, an improbable tear with 44 wins in 63 games since Kris Knoblauch replaced Jay Woodcroft as coach. The Canucks aren't doing themselves any favors as they haven't beaten a fellow playoff team in roughly a month, dating to a 5-0 rout of Winnipeg on March 9.


AP sports writers Pat Graham in Denver and Mitch Stacy in Columbus, Ohio, contributed.