- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 16, 2016

Nate Schmidt had been looking forward to his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut for quite some time.

He didn’t expect that he would play such a limited role in it.

Schmidt was on the ice for just 7:02 in the Washington Capitals’ 2-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 on Thursday, taking a total of 13 shifts.

Those numbers were weighed down by a variety of factors — namely the number of penalties taken by the two teams and the Flyers’ loss of second-line center Sean Couturier to injury, which forced a jumbling of their lines and an inability to get the matchups the Capitals wanted.

“Todd [Reirden, the assistant coach] spoke to us a little bit before the game about making sure we get involved early and whatever happens happens,” Schmidt said on Friday. “Just make sure to stay involved, stay in the game, because you just never know what’s going to happen at that point.”

Schmidt logged heavy minutes throughout the season with injuries to John Carlson and Brooks Orpik, spending more than half of it in a top-four role. At several times during that stretch, he played 20 or more minutes.

Once Carlson and Orpik recovered, the Capitals’ coaching staff elected to keep Carlson with Schmidt and Orpik with Dmitry Orlov. That changed in the final games of the regular season and leading up to Game 1, when Schmidt and Orlov were once again together.

Schmidt’s first shift on Thursday, though, was taken alongside Carlson. In fact, five of Schmidt’s nine first-period shifts were with Carlson; three were with Orlov, one of which was only nine seconds, and the other was with Orpik.

He took three shifts in the second period — two with Carlson and one with Orlov. Only one of those shifts took place after Couturier’s injury at 11:13 of the second period, and Schmidt took only one shift in the third period, for 37 seconds, when he was paired with Orlov.

The Flyers had left wing Jakub Voracek take extra shifts, and right wings Brayden Schenn and Sam Gagner, on the third line, each filled in at center after Couturier left the game.

“It seemed like every time we got a power play, we’d go back and our rotation — [and] by the time the rotation came to Orlov and I, we took a penalty or they took a penalty,” Schmidt said. “It was just the way the game flowed.”

Carlson, Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner each played more than seven minutes in the third period. Those four played at least 21 minutes; Orlov played 11:18, with only 2:13 of that in the third period.

Coach Barry Trotz professed to be unaware of Schmidt’s limited minutes when asked about it after the game, though he said the defenseman was his usual, jovial self and, on Friday, praised Schmidt’s team-oriented view.

Last year, Schmidt was an emergency recall for the playoffs, bouncing back and forth between the Capitals and the Hershey Bears of the AHL. He never played in a game, though, and after making 72 appearances this year, he understands his role.

“Just make sure to stay involved, stay in the game, because you just never know what’s going to happen at that point,” Schmidt said. “But, yeah, you know what? It was a good foundation. You can say the first layer has been laid, and hopefully, a couple more here to come.”

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