Capitals' playoff hopes take another hit with loss to Blues

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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.

“We have no wiggle room,” winger Conor Sheary said. "The fact that we weren’t able to come out and be ready for this one and try to move up the standings is unfortunate. So, at this point, we got to get rolling, and if we don’t it’s going to end quickly for us.”

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.

“Sometimes you get a nice comeback like last game, but it’s too hard,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “It’s too hard in this league to just chase every game. It’s not doable.”

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 some poor puck management all around 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.

"It was fun. I had a blast out there," Hofer said. "There’s obviously a lot of uncertainties with being in the (American Hockey League) all year and the first game in a long time, but I thought the guys played really well in front of me and kind of kept them to the outside. It’s super nice to get the win.”

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.

Now with six goals since going back to the Blues from the New York Rangers, Blais has outscored longtime Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko since the trade.

“It’s been feeling good being back here and finding my confidence back a little bit," Blais said. "Just happy it’s been working out well.”

UP NEXT

Blues: Host the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night.

Capitals: Visit the Minnesota Wild on Sunday afternoon.

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Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports