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Nate Schmidt ready to make 'next jump' into the Caps' top-4

Nate Schmidt ready to make 'next jump' into the Caps' top-4

The playoffs were a major disappointment for the Capitals as a team.

The playoffs, however, were very good for Nate Schmidt as an individual.

The 25-year-old’s postseason journey began the same way the regular season had ended—with him slotted as Washington’s spare defenseman. But that all changed in Game 3 of the opening round when Karl Alzner was unable to suit up due to injury.

Schmidt played so well that he never came back out.

“I thought the playoffs were really good for me personally,” he said recently. “I thought I could have brought a little bit more, especially in the last game. [But] I think that hopefully the management or the staff believes that I can make the next jump and move up to that ever elusive top-4.”

He certainly made a strong argument in the playoffs.

RELATED: Is Alex Ovechkin a good leader?

Schmidt registered assists in each of his first two games vs. Toronto and finished the postseason with a goal and three assists in 11 games. He also led the team with a +6 rating.

That strong playoff performance followed a tough second half of the regular season for Schmidt. He was bumped out of the lineup altogether when Kevin Shattenkirk was acquired at the trade deadline. Schmidt showed well in the final four games of the regular season as a fill-in for John Carlson, who was injured at the time. But as the playoffs began, Schmidt was once again the odd man out.

As hard as that was for Schmidt, he accepted his role, worked hard to stay prepared and waited patiently for another shot.

As it turned out, he didn't have to wait very long. Alzner suffered a broken right hand in the playoff opener and by Game 3 was unable to suit up.

Schmidt got the call and never looked back.

“You have to make an impact,” he said. “When I played with John in the Toronto series, I thought we made an impact. When I played with [Shattenkirk] at the end of the [Pittsburgh] series, I thought we made an impact when we were on the ice. And that’s all I really wanted to do—just go make an impact.”

In the wake of the Caps’ elimination, Schmidt has struggled with a couple of conflicting emotions. He’s pleased that he played well. He’s devastated that the team came up way short of expectations.    

“You never want to hit the rewind button [because] everything happens for a reason,” he said. “But that’s probably the first time where I got off the ice and I didn’t really believe it had happened and that it was all a bad dream, especially those couple of minutes at the end [of Game 7] when we didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities to score. You just realized that was the way the game was going to go.”

He added: “It’s definitely on us. That’s the reason it hurts so much more [than 2016]. You see how banged up [the Penguins] were. We had a chance to beat them…”

As another offseason begins a month earlier than anyone in Washington expected, there’s a lot of uncertainty swirling. Schmidt is a restricted free agent and due a healthy raise, as are many of his teammates. He also figures to be a tantalizing option for the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft.

Assuming he returns to Washington, though, Schmidt is confident that he solified his worth and proved he's ready for more responsibility in 2017-18.   

“That’s where you want to be,” he said of sliding into the top-4, a move Dmitry Orlov made a year ago. “That’s the next step for me. That’s what I want to do, and I think I put myself in position to be that type of defenseman for our team.”

MORE CAPITALS: Free agency presents Alzner with first taste of unknown

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The Capitals hung out with a bunch of dogs and puppies and it was great

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NBC Sports Washington

The Capitals hung out with a bunch of dogs and puppies and it was great

The Capitals had just about the best kind of afternoon anyone could have: They hung out with a bunch of dogs and took some pictures together. 

The team had its annual Caps Canine Calendar shoot Monday, and, of course, the photos from it capture some of the most adorable images of the players and their four-legged friends. While we'll have to wait for the actual calendar to come out to see everyone's perfect poses and smiles, here are a bunch of behind-the-scenes photos of the Caps and their pups. 

MORE CAPS: Where Washington falls in the latest NHL power rankings

MORE CAPS: Ovechkin says he expects to be fine after injury scare

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What does Andre Burakovsky's injury mean for the Caps?

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USA TODAY Sports

What does Andre Burakovsky's injury mean for the Caps?

While the Caps got some good news on Alex Ovechkin, the outlook wasn’t as positive for Andre Burakovsky on Monday.

Burakovsky, who suffered an upper-body injury late in Saturday’s game, could be sidelined, according to Coach Barry Trotz.

“I think he’s going to miss a little bit of time,” Trotz said after Monday’s practice, adding that he'll know more on Tuesday.

RELATED: DON'T PANIC, ALEX OVECHKIN SHOULD BE JUST FINE

Without Burakovsky, the Caps’ forward lines were as follows:

Tom Wilson – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Alex Chiasson
Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Jakub Vrana
Nathan Walker – Jay Beagle – Devante Smith-Pelly

The changes include Chiasson moving to the second line, Vrana dropping to the third and Walker drawing back into the lineup.

As for Burakovsly, the nature of his injury remains unclear. The 22-year-old winger, however, appeared to hurt his left hand in the closing minutes of the Caps’ 4-1 loss to the Panthers. After drawing a hooking infraction, he removed his glove and began flexing his hand.

MORE CAPITALS: AFTER ROUGH START, CAPS NEED A SPARK OUT WEST

If Burakovsky is unable to suit up—the Caps make stops in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary later this week—Washington would likely recall Chandler Stephenson from Hershey, Trotz said.

The Caps have 12 forwards, but the team would not want to be on a five-day trip to Western Canada without an extra forward. (Tyler Graovac is week-to-week with an upper-body injury and Trotz said he will not travel with the team).

Stephenson was one of the last cuts at Caps training camp and has a Hershey-best five goals in six games after recording a hat trick over the weekend.