Capitals' playoff hopes take another hit with loss to Blues
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sammy Blais scored twice, Joel Hofer made 33 saves in his season debut and the St. Louis Blues dealt the Washington Capitals a significant blow in their long-shot bid for a playoff spot with a 5-2 victory Friday night.
The Capitals missed an opportunity to make up ground in the race for an Eastern Conference wild-card spot against an opponent long out of it in the West. They trail the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders by five points with 12 games left to play.
Their odds of making it would have been even slimmer if not for a comeback victory in a shootout against Buffalo on Wednesday, but each regulation loss makes the climb more difficult. Coming up empty in a listless, mistake-heavy loss to St. Louis does just that.
There was plenty of blame to go around for Washington.
Trade deadline pickup Rasmus Sandin — one of two additions amid a selloff — was on the ice for four goals against, and poor puck management gave the Blues quality chances. Darcy Kuemper allowed at least one soft goal among the four he gave up on 21 shots behind a defense missing Nick Jensen because of injury.
At the other end, the Capitals got third period goals from Martin Fehervary and Nicklas Backstrom against Hofer, a rookie playing just his third NHL game after starter Jordan Binnington was suspended for throwing a punch in the Blues' last game.
St. Louis again got contributions from all three reclamation projects acquired in deals prior to the deadline: the goals from Blais and one from Kasperi Kapanen and an assist from Jakub Vrana on Jordan Kyrou's team-leading 31st of the season. Brayden Schenn sealed it with a long-distance empty netter with 1:39 left.
Vrana, who was drafted by the Capitals and helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2018 and was traded to Detroit in 2021, has five points in six games since joining the Blues from the Red Wings earlier this month.
Blues: Host the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night.
Capitals: Visit the Minnesota Wild on Sunday afternoon.
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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press