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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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Capitals on the cusp of second ever season sweep of Flyers

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Capitals on the cusp of second ever season sweep of Flyers

WASHINGTON – The Capitals entered the NHL when the Philadelphia Flyers were at the height of their powers. 

The "Broad Street Bullies" pummeled Washington in the 1970s. It took the Capitals seven years to even win a game in regulation against their I-95 rivals. Even when they finally built a consistent winner in the early 1980s, the Flyers were almost always good, too. 

Philadelphia made the Stanley Cup playoffs 34 times in 43 years, reached the Cup Final eight times and has won it twice. So only once before has Washington done what it has a chance to do Sunday when the two teams meet at Capital One Arena: sweep the season series. 

The Capitals (43-24-8, 94 points) lead the Metropolitan Division by one point and need a win to maintain that position after consecutive losses at home. The game is at 12:30 p.m. on NBC. 

The one and only time Washington swept Philadelphia came in 2006-07 – Alex Ovechkin’s second season in the NHL. That was a particularly bad year for the Flyers, who went 22-48-12 and with 56 points finished with the worst record in the NHL. The organization had made the Stanley Cup playoffs 28 times in the previous 33 years. It wasn’t used to losing and certainly not that often to the Capitals. 

Washington went 4-0 that season against the Flyers and outscored them 20-9. Ovechkin had six goals and five assists in those games. This year’s version is nowhere near that bad. Philadelphia is 36-31-8, but after Saturday’s loss to the New York Islanders they are stuck on 80 points, which is five out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with just seven games to go. 

If they do miss, as expected, the losses to the Capitals will hurt. The Flyers are 0-3-0 and have allowed 15 goals to Washington. And that is despite holding Ovechkin to a goal and two assists. Here are other things to watch for in Sunday's game: 

Capitals recall Lewington

With defenseman Michal Kempny out indefinitely, Washington recalled Tyler Lewington from AHL Hershey on Saturday. But will he have to play? Maybe not on Sunday. Christian Djoos took Kempny’s spot in the lineup in Friday’s loss to Minnesota and is expected to remain in the lineup. But Lewington's presence provides insurance on a team where illness has struck in recent days. This is Lewington’s second call-up this season. He made his NHL debut on Dec. 22 and in a Dec. 29 game at Ottawa had a Gordie Howe hat trick with a goal, an assist and a fight. 

Kuznetsov’s health

One of those players who have fallen ill is Evgeny Kuznetsov, who missed practice Saturday with an illness and was sent home. If he isn’t able to play then Lars Eller would bump to the second line to play center with Carl Hagelin and T.J Oshie. Hagelin was on the ice on Saturday, but the veteran winger was a late scratch with an illness against the Wild on Friday. The third line could be Jakub Vrana and Brett Connolly with Travis Boyd taking over for Eller.  Keep an eye on Kuznetsov’s energy level if he does play. Capitals coach Todd Reirden didn’t rule him out. 

Ovechkin’s chase for 50

The chase continues for Ovechkin, who sits at 48 goals to lead the NHL. Ovechkin has two assists in the past three games, but no goals. Washington is 1-1-1 during this stretch. Ovechkin is seven points away from his first 90-point season since 2009-10. 

Scoreboard watch

With the lead over the Islanders down to one point with seven games to go, keep an eye on New York’s home game Sunday against the Arizona Coyotes. That is a 3 p.m. start. The Capitals are seeking their fourth consecutive Metropolitan Division crown. 

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Capitals vs. Flyers: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

Capitals vs. Flyers: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

The Washington Capitals are facing off against the Philadelphia Flyers in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, March 24 at 12:30 p.m. The Capitals are recovering from a 1-2 loss against the Minnesota Wild, and the Philadelphia Flyers are playing the Islanders at 1 p.m. on Saturday, but beat the Blackhawks 3-1 on Thursday.

Here’s everything you need to know to watch the Flyers play the Capitals on Sunday afternoon.

CAPITALS vs. FLYERS PRESEASON HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.
When: 12:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs. Flyers on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.
Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS vs. FLYERS TV SCHEDULE

10:00 AM: Capitals Championship Parade 
11:00 AM: 2019 Caps Journey to the Cup Part 1
11:30 AM: Caps FaceOff Live
12:00 PM: Caps FaceOff Live [NBC Sports Washington Plus]
3:00 PM: Caps Postgame Live
3:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live
3:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live [NBC Sports Washington Plus]

CAPITALS vs. FLYERS INJURY REPORT:

CAPITALS: 
Michal Kempny, lower body injury as of March 19

FLYERS: 
Michael Raffl, undisclosed injury as of March 20
Samuel Morin, illness as of March 18
Michal Neuvirth, lower body injury as of Jan. 3

CAPITALS vs. FLYERS PLAYERS TO WATCH

Brett Connolly (20 goal, 22 assists, 42 points): Connolly was the only Capital to put a point on the board during Friday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. He scored in the second period, tying the game going into the third. He’s scored three goals in the team’s last five games and has contributed with three assists.

Christian Djoos (1 goal, 7 assists, 8 points): Djoos played against Minnesota on Friday following Michal Kempny’s “indefinite” injury leave. Djoos didn’t contribute to the Caps with any key stats, though he played for almost 17 minutes and had two shots on goal. 

CAPITALS vs. FLYERS SERIES HISTORY 

Number of all-time Meetings: 247 games
Regular Season Record: Flyers lead 127-101-19
Last Meeting: Capitals won 5-2 on March 14

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