Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt is expected to get his first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs tonight when he takes warmups for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Rangers at what promises to be a very electric Verizon Center.
Whether he makes his Stanley Cup playoff debut will depend on the health of veteran Caps defenseman Tim Gleason.
“I would say he’s a probable,” Trotz said of Gleason, who blocked three shots by the Rangers in Game 2. “You will see Nate Schmidt out there for warmup but that is just on an emergency basis, making sure we’re good to go.”
Gleason, 32, has no points and is a minus-2 in nine playoff games on a third defense pairing with Mike Green. Trotz said that if Gleason can play tonight, Schmidt, 23, will return to Hershey for Game 1 of the Bears’ second-round series against the Rangers’ AHL affiliate Hartford Wolf Pack.
“There are two purposes,” Trotz said of Schmidt’s recall. “If someone were to go down, Schmitty would be the natural recall from Hershey if we don’t go the [Dmitry] Orlov route.
“It gives him a chance to get in the fold a little bit and recognize he could very easily go from Game 2 or Game 3 in an American League series to Game 7 within 24 hours. That’s something we want to prepare him for.”
The Caps also may be recognizing that while Gleason’s physicality was required in a hard-hitting first-round against the New York Islanders, Schmidt’s speed may be required against the Rangers in Round 2.
“They’re a real quick team and I played against them a couple times this year and I feel like I match up pretty well against a really good skating team,” Schmidt said. “If they call my number I’ll be ready. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to and if it happens it happens.”
Schmidt played in 39 games for the Capitals this season, including a pair of losses to the Rangers. On Dec. 23 Schmidt logged 9:45 of ice time and was even in a 4-2 loss in New York, and on March 11 Schmidt was a minus-2 in 14:54 of ice time in a 3-1 loss at home.
In the Bears’ four-game elimination of the Worcester Sharks, Schmidt recorded one goal and three assists while averaging around 20 minutes a night.
He said that if he is pressed into duty tonight against the Rangers his familiarity with Green will be helpful as he navigates through his first Stanley Cup playoff game.
“He’s such a calming factor back there,” Schmidt said. “Even yesterday [at practice] we hit it off again getting back to old times. It’s great to have him there to help. This would be a new experience for me and I imagine the energy and the intensity are a lot higher [than in the regular season], but I think having all those veteran guys back there will help me to be calm.”
No Orlov: The fact the Caps recalled Schmidt is a strong indication they do not see Dmitry Orlov as their first option if a defenseman is injured during the playoffs. Orlov has not played a game for the Capitals this season and has played just three games, all for the Bears, all season. He could be an option if the Capitals have two injuries to their blue line.
“It’s always on the table,” Trotz said of Orlov’s availability.
On the rebound: The Caps have followed every playoff loss with a victory in the post-season and they are hoping that trend continues in Game 3.
“Desperation,” Caps right wing Troy Brouwer said when asked for an explanation on the caps’ ability to bounce back. “Not wanting to lose two games in a row. If you do that you’re always in the series.”
In each of his two starts following losses this post-season, Caps goaltender Braden Holtby has led his team to 2-1 victories, stopping 46 of 48 shots in Games 4 and 7.
Dating back to his rookie season, Holtby is 8-2 in playoff games following a loss and has allowed two or fewer goals in all eighr victories.
“I think it brings us back into focus a little bit,” Holtby said. “We’ve had a lot of close games and we’re used to having tough losses and having to bounce back and it’s made us mentally tougher. We want to get better at both areas, after a win and after a loss.”
Getting the lead: In these playoffs the Caps are 3-0 when scoring first and 2-4 when allowing their opponent to score first.
“Whenever you play a good team like the Rangers you want to get out to a lead and dictate how the game will be played,” Brouwer said.
Here are projected lineups for Game 3:
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Joel Ward
Marcus Johnasson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Jason Chimera
Andre Burakovsky – Jay Beagle – Troy Brouwer
Curtis Glencross – Brooks Laich – Tom Wilson
Brooks Orpik – John Carlson
Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen
Tim Gleason – Mike Green
Braden Holtby – Justin Peters
Scratches: C Michael Latta, D Dmitry Orlov
Injuries: Eric Fehr [upper body, day-to-day]
Rick Nash – Derrick Brassard – Marty St. Louis
Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – J.T. Miller
Carl Hagelin – Kevin Hayes – Jesper Fast
James Sheppard – Dominic Moore – Tanner Glass
Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Marc Staal – Dan Boyle
Keith Yandle – Kevin Klein
Henrik Lundqvist – Cam Talbot
Scratches: D Matt Hunwick, D Chris Summers
Injuries: Mats Zuccarello [head, indefinite]