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Round 1

Nate Schmidt making most of chance in Capitals lineup

Defenseman likely to continue in big role in Game 5 vs. Maple Leafs on Friday

by Katie Brown / Correspondent

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Nate Schmidt was pushed into a role as the Washington Capitals' seventh defenseman after Kevin Shattenkirk was acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 27.

But with Karl Alzner questionable for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports 2, CSN-DC), Schmidt could be in the lineup for a third straight game with the best-of-7 series tied 2-2.

Alzner is day to day with a lower-body injury; he skated at the Capitals practice facility here Wednesday. Alzner had played in 599 consecutive regular-season and Stanley Cup Playoff games, a streak that ended when he missed Game 3 on Monday.

Schmidt was paired with John Carlson, Alzner's regular partner, in Games 3 and 4. Schmidt has averaged 17:49 of ice time with two assists, and coach Barry Trotz could have a tough time taking him out of the lineup when Alzner is healthy.

Video: WSH@TOR, Gm3: Backstrom buries Schmidt's slick pass

"Right now he's making a statement, going, 'You're not getting the spot back,'" Trotz said Wednesday after the Capitals won Game 4 5-4. "And that's good on Nate. He's one of those guys that prepares, a fantastic person, he brings tons of energy, his drive train is real high, all those things that you love in a player."

The Capitals felt their lack of depth on defense was a reason they lost last year in the Eastern Conference Second Round to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Trading for Shattenkirk was supposed to address that issue, but his arrival bumped Schmidt and defenseman Taylor Chorney down the depth chart.

Schmidt played seven of the final 21 regular-season games after Shattenkirk was acquired. Stylistically, Schmidt is a good fit against the Maple Leafs, with his skating ability and speed offsetting Toronto's quickness at forward.

Alzner's specialty is being a steady, reliable stay-at-home defenseman who kills penalties and blocks shots. He plays against tough competition and logs heavy minutes. He'll play when he's healthy, but Schmidt is doing his part to make Trotz's lineup decision a tough one.

"He's got an opportunity," Trotz said. "He's making the most of it."

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